Council ratifies emergency order, reduces seasonal sales tax,hires police chief
In another marathon meeting, the Nome Common Council chewed through a fat agenda on Tuesday evening, with most of the time being spent on wrestling with language to formulate a travel form that aims to give travelers guidance but seems to create confusion.
In two separate citizen’s comments segments, the council heard that the travel restrictions – which are imposed by the state, not the local city government – cause hardship on businesses. The Council also heard from citizens who need to travel to receive medical treatment to Anchorage and don’t find easy answers on what the rules are if one has to travel several times in a two-week time span between Nome and Anchorage and find the travel form cumbersome to obtain, fill out and print. Others suggested to move the travel form process online and keep the city’s website updated, with current information, answers to frequently asked questions and emergency orders.
The Council ratified an emergency order that City Manager Glenn Steckman signed Friday, May 22, which replaces all previous emergency orders. At the heart of it, it gives intrastate travelers the option to chose a 14-day quarantine without testing, or being tested upon arrival at the Nome airport and agreeing to a second test after seven days to reduce the quarantine time to a week. Interstate travelers, those coming from outside of Alaska, need, by state mandate, quarantine for 14 days. In lengthy discussions the Council amended the portion of the emergency order that specifies the contents of the travel form and brought it in line with state definitions of “critical personal needs” which include subsistence practices. “What is the net result of the permit?” asked Mark Johnson. Steckman answered, “To see if they come from Anchorage or out of state and we are requesting what their quarantine plans are. This gives us an understanding of what their understanding is.”
The information would not be shared, only with the hospital if requested, Steckman said. Steckman said that currently, about 175 to 200 people arrive in Nome and that about 90 percent of the new arrivals do have a travel permit in hand.
The travel form aims to clarify if the person traveling to Nome does so to perform essential services or critical infrastructure work, or is traveling for critical personal needs (which by state definition include subsistence) – including returning to Nome after travel to Anchorage for critical personal needs and that the person gives a quarantine plan while in Nome and identifies a quarantine location.
The emergency order is in effect until July 14, but can be rescinded or amended by the Council any time.
In other business:
• In unfinished business, the Council voted in a second reading on abolishing the seasonal 2 percent sales tax increase for June, July and August, to give citizens a little bit of relief in financial hard times brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.
• The Council passed a slew of first readings to approve several budgets in the Fiscal Year 2021: City of Nome general fund budget (nearly $13.6 million) and several sub-budgets including construction, capital, Nome School Debt Service fund budgets, Port of Nome budget (nearly $2.3 million), and the setting a $3 million contribution to the Nome School District. The mill rate for property taxes remains at 13 mills.
• As the City has a projected $1 million budget deficit as it stands now, City Manager Glenn Steckman and the Council discussed ways that the federal CARES Act funds could help as certain portions of salaries, i.e. city manager and police or public safety related salaries, are eligible to be paid for with the CARES money. The state legislature has approved of a disbursement of federal COVID-19 emergency funds through the so-called CARES Act. The City of Nome is eligible for $5.67 million that would be paid out in three tranches. Steckman asked the Council for a resolution to be able to submit an application to the state for the fund allotted to the City of Nome. The Council unanimously passed a resolution to apply for the CARES Act funds.
• Jerald Brown also asked city staff to declare an economic disaster for Nome due to hardships encountered with the shutdown of businesses. “The intent is to be able to use a significant portion of the CARES money to distribute to businesses in Nome that are negatively impacted due to COVID-19,” Brown said. The Council agreed on tackling the particulars on how the CARES Act funds should be spent in separate work session.
• The Council passed a resolution to approve an employment agreement between the City of Nome and Michael Heintzelman for the position of Chief of Police. The Council unanimously voted in favor. Chief Heintzelman was present and said he felt it was an honor and privilege to work for the City and the Nome Police Department.
• In the city manager’s report, Steckman informed the Council of the annual Spring Cleanup plans that, like so many things during COVID-19 times, have changed. The Monofill will be open from June 1-6. The U-Call, We Haul service will be available from June 1 through June 5. Kids who bring 12 or more yellow trash bags to three garbage truck stations (fire hall at Icy View; Recycling Center across from NAPA; Port of Nome Parking lot at the harbormaster’s office) can enter for a drawing of one of five bicycles.
The yellow garbage bags are in limited supply and can be picked up at City Hall.