Council extends emergency ordinance closing bars, passes relief for service workers
In Monday’s regular meeting, the Nome Common Council voted to extend an emergency ordinance that prohibits the sale of alcohol for onsite consumption in bars and restaurants, until January 4, 2021.
As an emergency ordinance it needed to muster a threshold of five votes, which it reached, with the only dissenting vote cast by Council member Jennifer Reader. Public comments ranged from encouraging the Council to keep precautions like this in place but others also said that no outbreak had been associated with restaurants and thus they should be allowed to conduct business. Reader gave as an example a community she recently visited out of state that allowed restaurants to be open at limited occupancy and with a mask mandate and if something like that could be instituted here rather than shutting down businesses.
Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman explained that since the ordinance was enacted two weeks ago, Nome went from 13 to 21 active cases. He said the newest outbreak comes from people getting off the plane and not abiding by the quarantine stipulations that mandate a seven-day quarantine when agreeing to tests on the arrival day and the seventh day thereafter. “We almost had to shut down snow removal during the snow storm because we had a COVID close contact within City Hall,” he said. Frustrated with people who don’t abide by the rules, he said, “We tried the tough approach and were criticized, now we tried the educational approach and it’s not working either.”
To soften the blow to the hospitality businesses, the Council passed a resolution that authorized City Manager Steckman to roll out phase six of the City’s CARES Act money distribution for restaurants, bars and their employees and cab drivers. The businesses can apply for funds of up to 60 percent of the November and December 2019 sales tax with a $10,000 cap. Fulltime and part time employees can apply for assistance of $600 per week or $300 per week, respectively. The resolution passed unanimously.
In other business, the Council passed a resolution to apply $100,000 in NSEDC Community Benefit Share COVID-19 funds to NJUS to fix the aging streetlights throughout the city. NJUS had asked the City for CARES Act funds to pay for the project, but after checking with the Alaska Municipal League, the City found out that it is not an acceptable expense under CARES Act rules. The City then went to NSEDC for help. Councilwoman Reader questioned how the streetlights are connected to COVID and although NSEDC assured the City that the funds can be spend on the streetlight project, she and Councilman Adam Martinson cast a “nay” vote. However, the rest of the Council voted to accept the NSEDC funds for streetlight replacements.
The Council passed a resolution to grant a $60,000 request to Nome Public Schools out of CARES Act funds to cover costs for plexiclass partitions and additional costs for a part-time assistant to the rapidly expanding homeschool Extensions program.
City Manager Steckman updated the Council on the progress of CARES Act funding disbursement. Under phase 4, payments to businesses totaling $75,000 will go out this week. Under phase 5, more than 500 applications from individuals have been received and the first rounds of checks will be sent out this week. He reported many applications were improperly filled out and require staff time to be worked on. He estimates the total of phase 5 to be about $600,000. Steckman expects phase 6 geared towards cab, restaurant and bar workers to total less than $100,000.
In the Mayor’s report, John Handeland said he has a hard time recruiting members to fill the two empty seats of the Public Safety Advisory Commission. He said five people turned him down, saying it was too much of a time commitment.
The next regular Common Council meeting is scheduled for Dec. 28. The meeting was held in person, via zoom and transmitted via GCI community channel on TV.