Wasilla City Council

MATCOM communications manager Jacob Butcher, dispatcher Amy French and Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle pose for a photo during the Wasilla City Council meeting.

WASILLA — The Wasilla City Council honored MATCOM telecommunicators who sprung into action last week, saving lives in the process of fielding nearly 1,000 calls during Saturday and Sunday of last week.

Jacob Butcher, communications manager for MATCOM dispatch updated the council on their efforts, among the other regularly scheduled business at the Wasilla City Council meeting. Butcher informed the council that during the first 12 hours between 12 p.m. and 12 a.m. on Aug. 17, MATCOM received 513 calls, 243 of which resulted in calls for service and 42 of which resulted in response of the Mat-Su Borough Fire and EMS. During the total 36-hour period between noon Saturday and midnight Sunday, MATCOM received 985 phone calls which resulted in 563 calls for service. Of those 563, 111 were Fire and EMS including three major wildfires, eight structure fires, three vehicle fires, two traffic pursuits, a forestry plane with four souls on board that reported flames and smoke in the cockpit, and 21 reports of downed power lines.

“This type of performance under these stressful and chaotic times of public service demand the recognition of first responders, the citizens of our community and the seats of the Wasilla City Council,” said Butcher.

Mayor Bert Cottle figured that the MATCOM call volume increased 58 percent during that time period, but that was not the only act of heroism performed by MATCOM dispatchers during that time period. Cottle awarded two life safety awards to Morgan King and Amy French for their efforts responding to a call on Aug. 3.

Angel Heaton was hiking in the Talkeetna mountains and accidentally fired her gun into her own leg, resulting in the response of the Alaska National Guard’s 176th Wing at 1:07 a.m. After accidentally firing her weapon, Heaton waited for three hours for a helicopter to arrive and take her to Providence Medical Center. Heaton continued to text dispatchers, asking how long it would be until she was rescued. Each time Heaton asked, French and King responded with the approximate time and kept Heaton calm.

“Every other way possible doesn’t end like this. I had the best possible outcome for accidentally shooting myself, while on a mountain alone at 1 a.m.

Heaton hit the SOS button on her GPS that resulted in the quick action from MATCOM dispatchers.

“I just wanted to give our dispatchers another kudos because they’ve been working, many of them have been working 14 to 16 hour shifts day after day after day and it’s not because they’re being forced to work the hours. It’s not because they’re being told to, they’re volunteering because they have that responsibility on their shoulders that they need to serve their community,” said Butcher.

Director of Governor Dunleavy’s Mat-Su office, Todd Smoldon, gave his update to the council on Dunleavy’s final passage of the operating budget and his message that though Dunleavy signed the budget with a $1,600 Permanent Fund Dividend, he will likely call a third special session of the legislature in an effort to deliver an additional $1,400. Smoldon also hinted that he believes the session may be called on the road system in Anchorage, according to his best guess. Smoldon said that Dunleavy is asking for elected officials in local government to provide information regarding regulation and laws resulting in possible legislation to make government more efficient as a whole.

“The governor is very interested in having all input from all perspectives on ways to reduce inefficiency in the way that we conduct our economy and also our government,” said Smoldon.

Smoldon also alerted the council that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was in Wasilla this morning, touring Mat-Su Central School, one of the fastest growing schools in the state based on school enrollment. DeVos toured the school with Dunleavy, and both were impressed with the blended learning opportunities offered at Mat-Su Central.

“She was very impressed as is the govenor with mat su central it’s the fastest growing school in the mat su valley in terms of enrollment but what makes that such a special school is the variety that is offered to the students there and the empowerment that is offered to parents and students,” said Smoldon.

Mirian Daniel, Manager of Alaska Mattress which runs Mattress Firm in Wasilla asked for reconsideration on the city’s sign ordinances. Daniel figured that the Wasilla location has seen a decrease in 34 percent from January to August compared to 2018. Daniel said that the problem with not attracting enough customers based on sign regulations has affected other businesses along the Parks Highway. Daniel said that the estimated tax revenue lost from that amount of customers is nearly $4,000.

“This ordinance is having a measurably negative impact on our business and we are asking that the ordinance be reviewed and steps be taken and amended with guidelines that are environmentally conscious, aesthetically pleasing and business friendly,” said Daniel.

Councilman Stu Graham commented that he had served on a committee in the past few years that had reviewed signage codes, but the work from the committee never made it to the council. Daniel was asked questions about specific signage she would like to be available and said that she would be collecting concerns from other business owners to return to the council in an attempt to reach an agreement on signage code language and redirect more customers into businesses along the Parks Highway.

Councilman Tim Burney moved to pull three action items from the consent agenda for discussion, asking about how the contracts were awarded. Public Works Director Archie Giddings discussed with Burney the processes for awarding bid contracts, noting that the low bid is always the winner and extraneous circumstances are rarely brought into the discussion. Mayor Cottle noted before the discussion that he is related to the owner of Big Dipper Construction, the company that was awarded the three large contracts, but does not benefit financially in any way from the awarding of the contracts. Burney took particular issue with the contract for the Wasilla Library parking lot, figuring the price per parking spot to be around $15,000. Giddings noted that the appropriation he offered was the worst case scenario, and the city would not spend that much as the bid from Big Dipper came in lower than he anticipated.

“That’s a lot of money for 35 spots,” Burney said.

The council passed all of it’s Action Memorandums unanimously, awarding the three contracts to Big Dipper for the Wasilla Library parking lot and the Wasilla Police Station secondary access road. The next Wasilla city council meeting will be held on Sept. 9.

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