Council doles out NSEDC community benefit share
In absence of Mayor Richard Beneville, Nome Councilman Jerald Brown led through last Monday’s regular Nome Common Council meeting that was preceded by a work session concerning FY 2019 audit results and discussion on excise taxes.
Councilmembers Jennifer Reader, Doug Johnson and Mark Johnson participated telephonically, joining Councilmembers Meghan Topkok, Adam Martinson and Jerald Brown in council chambers via speakerphone.
The agenda was packed with six first readings of ordinances that dealt with amended budgets for fiscal year 2020 – all passed and will be taken up for second reading and public comment in the next council meeting- as well as several resolutions dealing with labor agreements between Nome Joint Utilities and pertinent labor unions. Those resolutions also passed.
Much time and discussion was spent on a resolution that doled out the $200,000 NSEDC end of the year Community Benefit Share funds. Twenty-seven proposals were submitted to the city – NSEDC requires a public process for funds distribution — and 21 entities were included in the resolution to receive money. But then Councilwoman Jennifer Reader proposed amendments to modify amounts going to select recipients and proposed to strike a line item of $26,862.22 that was earmarked for Nome Eskimo Communities bus service. Reader first proposed an amendment that would’ve increased funds for the Iron Dog, PAWS of Nome, Local Emergency Planning Committee, Bering Wellness, Checkpoint Youth Center and Nome Northstar Swim Team and would have eliminated all funding for the NEC bus service. The motion failed for lack of a second.
Mark Johnson said he wanted to recuse himself and asked to abstain from voting on the resolution as it may be a perceived conflict of interest, since some of the entities are clients of his CPA business. However, Acting Mayor Brown determined that Johnson is not conflicted to the degree of not being able to vote. With that cleared up, Brown suggested to Reader to introduce amendments in bite-sized bits.
In the end, here is what the Council agreed on: Iron Dog - $10,000; Nome Community Center (NCC)-Youth Court- $7,000; NCC-Camp Crave- $10,000; NCC-Boys & Girls Club- $15,000; NCC-Foodbank- $1,500; NCC-Senior Bus Replacement- $5,000; NCC-NEST- $1,200; Nome Public Schools- 8th Grade DC Trip- $10,000; Nome Public School-Outdoors Activities Course- $6,525.56; NPS/ACSA- Ski&Bike Mechanics-$2,000; NPS-Sports Travel-$34,000; PAWS of Nome- $4,000; Child Advocacy Center-$7,550; Bering Sea Lions Club $3,000; Local Emergency Planning Committee-$15,000; Bering Wellness-Behavioral Health- $7,862.22; Nome Winter Sports Association- $20,000; Nome Eskimo Community-$18,862.22; Checkpoint Youth Center- $13,500; Checkpoint Youth Food Budget- $3,000; Nome Northstar Swim Team-$5,000.
Reader commented that she was sad to see that the Bering Sea Women’s Group did not get any funds, but Councilmember Meghan Topkok, who also serves on the board of BSWG said that a grant came through that would pay for the computer upgrade that the group initially sought to have covered through the community benefit share. That was news to all at the table.
Other resolutions approved:
• The Council approved a resolution awarding engineering and contract administrative services to Bristol Engineering Services Company LLC for a replacement project of the inner harbor launch ramp in the amount of $220,450. Bristol Engineering was the only company to submit a proposal. According to the resolution, the project has received 80 percent in funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration Public Works program – nearly $1.7 million - and matching funds from NSEDC for $300,000 and $123,000 from the City of Nome.
• A resolution to transfer three taxi licenses from Peters LLC to Kateel Enterprises LLC (Mr. Kab)
• A resolution to adopt the results of the fiscal year 2019 audit;
• A resolution to partner with Kawerak and to apply for the 2020 Alaska Homeland Security and Emergency Management Security program grant, seeking funds not to exceed $300,000 to address current equipment needs.
During Citizen comments, Port Commissioner Derek McLarty addressed the Council with the request to support a 10 percent increase in tariff that the Port Commission proposed and that will be brought to the council. McLarty explained that the port commission had countless hours of debating the increase as the panel wanted to find a strategy that works now and into the future. He explained that the 10 percent increase would translate into a projected earning of $150,000, which would feed into a repair and maintenance fund designated for the port. “We don’t see any tax revenue,” he said. The port only gets revenue from tariff earnings. “It’s hard to operate just off the funds we get from the tariff,” he said. He said the port does not see any tax the City generates that is tied to the port, such as goods coming across the dock that in the stores generate a sales tax for the city, or fishermen coming to town and spending money that generate sales tax, or an estimated 5,000 cruise ship tourists who came to Nome last summer, enter through the port, but the port does not see any revenue from those. McLarty made the argument that many goods pass through the port that make the city money, but the port does not see any of it. “When we ask the city for money [for repairs] it’s really supporting the city, not only the port,” he said. The port is an enterprise fund.
What is that? asked councilmember Reader.
City Manager Glenn Steckman explained, “Any revenue that is generated by tariffs stays with the port. When goods are brought in and they are taxed, those funds go into the city’s general fund.”
Citizen Kenny Hughes also commented during the public comment period that the City should support the port. “The port enables a fair amount of sales tax and the only money they get is what they collect on their tariff,” he said. “ The level of repair and maintenance is beyond their capacity. It’s in the City’s best interest to contemplate more direct support for the port, outside the tariff.” Later in the meeting, Port Director Joy Baker offered comment on the issue and said that sometimes the City has to front the port money when there is an unhealthy balance, but that accounting is meticulous and the funds are being reimbursed. She said that through the 10 percent tariff increase, a rainy day fund would be created that would be available to pay for port repairs and improvements.
In other citizen comments, Lisa Ellanna stepped to the podium and read a letter from the Public Safety Commission that sadly reported the passing of Laverne Ashenfelter and acknowledged her contributions as an advocate at Bering Sea Womens’ Group, as a VPSO, as a tireless advocate for justice of victims of sexual assault. “Her life was one of service,” Ellanna said.
Also providing comments was student Molly Kenick, who also had attended the work session on taxing alcohol and marijuana, proposed a complex taxation scheme on those substances. She presented a formula that calculated alcohol level, volume and serving size, which then generated a result of about 65 cents of tax for a single serving of, let’s say, a glass of Chardonnay.
City Manager Steckman announced the email contact firstname.lastname@example.org for the new Animal Control contractor Emily Stotts. Since she is an independent contractor, she does not have a City of Nome email address.
Steckman also included in his report that Nome Eskimo Community donated $50,000 to the City as a contribution to support Nome road maintenance.
In councilmember comments, Mark Johnson thanked John Handeland for his countless hours of work dedicated to make the city a better place. Meghan Topkok commented that she’s looking forward to having a Youth representative on the Council and that the City needs to generate funds for the Local Emergency Planning Committee. Jerald Brown read an email from Richard Beneville to the council and those in the audience. Beneville transmitted in the email that he appreciated the kind wishes that had been sent to him, that he is doing well and that the doctors are pleased with his progress, although it is not progressing as fast as he wishes as he’s anxious to get back to Nome “after just a bit more care.”