Port MacKenzie repairs tacked to Mat-Su ferry sale

Mat-Su Borough’s unused ferry, Susitna, is one step closer to finding a home. But plans for the maritime sale were almost scuttled when a last-minute spate of amendments was introduced at Tuesday’s Borough Assembly meeting.

Photo by Jay Galvin, accessed via Flickr Creative Commons.
MV Susitna. Photo by Jay Galvin, accessed via Flickr Creative Commons.

On Tuesday, the Matanauska-Susitna Borough Assembly approved an ordinance accepting a payment of  $250,000 from the Phillipine Red Cross as a down payment on the MV Susitna. The money is to be deposited in a Borough fund, [Fund 450,] to help pay for the repairs on the vessel.

The sale of the ferry is contingent upon approval of a companion ordinance, [15-148] one appropriating an additional $870,000  from Borough reserves to pay for ferry engine repairs. The agreement with the Phillipine Red Cross requires the Borough to fix three damaged ferry engines. Under the companion ordinance, insurance money to cover the cost of the repairs will be appropriated back to the Borough when it comes in. But action on the companion ordinance hit a snag when Assembly-member Dan Mayfield moved a surprise amendment to the legislation.

The amendment essentially rewrites the companion ordinance to allow the Borough to borrow $2.5 million dollars from it’s Land Management Fund, to pay for emergency repairs on the Port MacKenzie barge dock. Dan Mayfield said Wednesday

“We tried to make that revenue neutral as far as taxpayers are concerned, but taking a loan from Community Development Land Management department, which has about 6 million dollars in that reserve, so we are borrowing 2.5 million dollars from that reserve, at interest, so the loan is repayable to the land management fund. ”

The Port is situated in Mayfield’s district, and he seems to be the only Assembly member to have had advance notice of the amendment.

The unorthodox method of paying for port repairs through a rider on the ferry legislation did not sit well with Assembly-member Jim Sykes, who said Wednesday that he was taken unawares.

“I was totally caught flatfooted. When Dan Mayfield started making amendments and he comes up with this, I said, ‘what?’ He had advanced knowledge of this, but because of the Public Meetings Act, he didn’t discuss it with all of us.”

Port director Marc Van Dongen told the Assembly Tuesday that if the barge dock repairs are not completed now, the cost of the damage could go up to as much as  $15 million.  That constitutes an emergency, Mayfield told the Assembly. Mayfield also stated that emergency action on Port MacKenzie repairs was discussed at a mid-November Borough Assembly meeting.

The $2.5 million for Port repairs tacked on to the ferry ordinance is in addition to the Borough’s insurance deductible and the amount of money needed for repairs to the Susitna’s engines. Those two things total $1.1 million. In all, the Assembly approved $3.6 million in expenditures on Tuesday with one ordinance, and minimal public awareness.

Mayfield says that the unorthodox method of getting approval for the funds was not his preference.

“I would have preferred to have a stand alone ordinance that would go through the public process and all of that, but when we do have emergencies, we need to respond to those.”

Mayfield says he has viewed the damage at the Port dock first hand, and that necessary work on it was halted due to lack of funds.

Assembly-member Jim Sykes voted for the amendment in the end, saying that waiting to approve the extra money for dock repairs would not have changed the outcome.

“It’s not fair to say that it is the taxpayers that are on the hook for this, because the money that they [the Assembly] borrowed probably didn’t come from property taxes. ”

The other Assembly-members agreed, with the exception of new Assembly-member George McKee. McKee cast the the only negative vote on both the amendment and the final legislation.

New Borough mayor Vern Halter was not at the meeting. Halter still has until the next regular Assembly meeting to veto the measure. Borough manager John Moosey says the repairs on the dock will commence immediately, despite the possibility of a veto.

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