It’s breakfast time at a Palmer eatery, and Mat Su Mayor Larry DeVilbiss’s smartphone is buzzing relentlessly in his pocket.
The shuttering of the Knik contract post office is the crisis du jour, and DeVilbiss, over hot chocolate, says he’ll personally contact the U.S. Postal Service about that. DeVilbiss, 71,a farmer and rancher, comes from a ’50s-era homesteading family. He’s got one more field of hay to harvest, and keeps one eye on the weather.
“We’ve had a real light year for hay. Until last week when I cut my last field, I was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough hay to get through the winter. But the last field, there’s a good yield of hay there.”
He raises beef cattle, but despite his farming interests, he says he’s pro-development.
“Three years ago, I was the brunt of a couple of thousand people who put all their efforts into getting me out of office because I supported the Usibelli coal mine permit. My drive and one of my main focuses on being mayor is to try to develop our local economy and bring it home. We have for many years been a bedroom community to Anchorage and to the North Slope. “
He says he’d like to see at least some of the tax burden shifted from Borough homeowners to commercial interests. The Mat Su is different from Kenai, Fairbanks and Anchorage, he says, because those areas get almost a third of their tax base from commercial and oil interests.
State assessors put the Borough’s entire worth at $9 billion. DeVilbiss says if the Borough’s Port MacKenzie expansion and a related railroad spur project are completed, LNG businesses could locate there.
“On just a single leaseholder project is in the magnitude of a billion dollars. Well that immediately shifts one ninth of our tax load on to a property that is providing jobs.”
DeVilbiss has been in the mayor’s seat since 2011, when he was appointed to finish out the term of the previous Borough mayor. He his next election and, if elected again, will term out after 2018.
DeVilbiss has seen a lot of changes in the Valley, and in the representation on the Borough Assembly.
“I think one of my traits of leadership is being able to work, even in a negative atmosphere, with congeniality. Since I’ve been mayor, we’ve had a very good relationship working with the school board and the school administration.”
He says he’s attempted to push out the boundaries of the mayor’s position as a figurehead and tie-breaker:
“I spend a lot of time attending boards and commissions that mayors have never been to, I make the appointments to those boards, so I am responsible for them, so I try to show up as often as I can.”
Despite his successful election bids, he’s met criticism for his liberal use of mayoral veto power.
“…And most of my vetos either have to do with improper notice on issues that have come up, or on negative impact on the tax rate.”
DeVilbiss says one of his future goals is making public meetings more accessible to Valley residents.
“When my vision is complete, people in Talkeetna and Willow, instead of driving down here to testify for three minutes, will be able to get on a video teleconference line and speak to us directly.”
The incumbent says he’s kept his promise of no more school bonds within five years , and points to the Borough’s improvements in new and old schools, transportation and improved fish runs during his term of office.