Attorney, dog driver and Mat Su Asssemblyman Vern Halter has represented the Borough’s District 7 for two terms. Now he has his eyes on the Borough mayor’s seat.
Sixty-six-year-old Halter — a veteran, a lawyer and a 38-year Alaska resident — has a colorful background as a former Kodiak law clerk, an Unalaska judge and now operator of Dream a Dream Kennel in Willow.
Over coffee in Palmer, Halter says he’s quite different from the incumbent DeVilbiss.
“I am not a Republican, I am not a Democrat, I am a centrist conservative, coalition builder, and I think I could converse with our delegation as well or better, even thought they are supporting him, at this point in time, than the mayor.”
Halter lives a rural lifestyle in Willow, but says he leans toward more development in the Mat Su.
“Heck yes. I don’t really think we need a ton of rules that hinder businesses. I think we have to have certain rules, you know, to protect society.”
Halter recently successfully sponsored a Borough-wide musher’s rights ordinance. He says he is not a staunch environmentalist, but he does oppose the Susitna dam.
“The dam, the Susitna dam was a mistake. You know it cost us $200-400 million dollars, and that money is forgone now. And then you have the Big Su River, it will alter that forever. You are talking about salvaging salmon, which is a huge mission of the Mat Su Borough and the state of Alaska. Well that will finish it off,” Halter says. “So we have to be careful of those, those mega projects that don’t seem to have good footing. The Bridge is different. I’ve always supported the [Knik Arm] bridge. I think that one should be pushed.”
At a recent AARP sponsored mayoral debate, Halter said schools are the Borough’s number one priority, and pointed to the success of the Borough’s school bond package that passed in 2011.
Halters’ biggest bone of contention with the present Borough mayor is the use of the mayoral veto power.
“I think sometime when you use a veto power just to veto, or as a power itself, is very frustrating,” he says. “And a lot of the vetos that I though have come down — the library funds for Palmer and Wasilla, they are a partner with the Borough, we have residents from the Borough going into the city libraries, we were giving them $40,000-$50,000 grant per year. The mayor vetoed those. I would not veto those. I think that is a good partnership with the cities, It shows our intent with them. The mayor vetoed the road bonds in 2011. If it has not been overridden, it would not have gone to the voters that fall. ”
DeVilbiss says he vetoed the road bond package because it was “false advertising” to include trails in the bond.
Halter is also concerned about the mayor’s veto of a Borough grant to fund a Sexual Assault Response Team.
Halter says the coming years will be lean ones, and, since property owners are still going to be the main source of Borough revenue, he aims to keep the mill rate low.
“And my goal would never to go above ten and keep it as low as we possibly can.”
He says the Borough has to prioritize projects that need the most attention. The completion of the railroad spur from Port Mackenzie to Houston is a major need, and the most pressing issue is very basic… septage. Greywater and human waste is trucked to Anchorage from the Valley to sanitation facilities in the city. Halter says a $28 million Borough project for a local septage facility is a top priority.