PALMER — The Mat-Su Borough Assembly engaged in discussions over whether or not the borough should continue to pay for earthquake insurance on schools during its meeting Tuesday.

The $25 million dollar maximum payout is eclipsed by the $38 million estimate to repair or replace Houston Middle School. The future of HMS is still uncertain after sustaining major structural damage during the magnitude 7.1 earthquake on Nov 30, 2019.

“We know with absolute 100 percent assurity that we will have another earthquake which could in all probability cause even more widespread damage than the November 30 earthquake. Even with building codes having been improved since the ‘64 quake and then building codes in ‘85 being improved,” said Assemblyman Dan Mayfield.

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The question came from an assembly member and was brought forward by borough Manager John Moosey.

“I don’t really see the argument for paying the insurance,” said Assemblyman Jesse Sumner.

Sumner argued that if the borough was to take the money then pay for earthquake insurance and save it themselves rather than paying insurance, they could cover their own costs in the event of another major earthquake. Sumner also argued that the schools in the Mat-Su Borough School District all took the 7.1 quake and are still standing, save for HMS.

“I’m not sure that we benefited from having the insurance companies evaluation of damages for HMS. I think that they likely very aggressively pushed for a lower valuation of those damages,” Sumner said.

Assemblyman Jim Sykes observed in jest Sumner’s faith in the federal government and noted that the borough just recently received insurance payments for flooding in 2012. Damage reimbursements from FEMA can take up to five years, and Sumner argued that if the borough simply saved their own insurance payments, they would not have to wait on being reimbursed. The issue was not an action item, so there was no vote taken. Sykes did move that Moosey prepare a side by side cost comparison of what it would look like if the borough did or did not have insurance for up to 20 years. The assembly will take this matter up at their next meeting prior to the renewal date of July 1.

The assembly passed 10 of its 12 actionable items without opposition. Ordinance 19-022 was the first to come under scrutiny by the assembly. Ordinance 19-022 would appropriate $2,702,500 for paving and calcium chloride, public works road improvement and city allocation. Sykes argued that doubling the appropriation was not appropriate until the assembly received a review of what was needed and what was still in the reserve fund. Sykes offered an amendment to cut the appropriation to $900,000, nearly double the half-million typically allocated.

“Public Works would like to use this reserve of funds to improve our road systems within the MSB for road improvement projects,” reads Ordinance 19-022.

Mayfield countered that all of the money in the reserve would not even cover all of the projects slated for improvement. The borough also used $3 million from the fund to cover earthquake expenses last year, according to Moosey. Moosey said that the intention of the ordinance was to have a portion of the monies redirected to the cities, as opposed to evenly distributing the allocations to each of the Road Service Areas. Sykes’ amendment failed on a tie vote with Mayor Vern Halter breaking the tie with a no vote. The ordinance would not have passed unless Halter had voted yes. The ordinance itself passed with only Sykes and George McKee voting in opposition.

Halter had no vetoes on the budget passed last week and the mill rate remains unchanged.

Contact Frontiersman reporter Tim Rockey at tim.rockey@frontiersman.com.

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