Nome City Council gives 2020 spending plan thumbs up
By Sandra L. Medearis
Nome Common Council members sat down to a work table stacked high with a pile of City budgets to work through second reading and final passage Monday evening.
Taxing authority to garner revenue to pay for City salaries and service came along with the seven fund budgets. The Council has set the mill rate at 13 mills for property tax.
Before the action on budgets, the Council discussed second reading and final passage of an ordinance changing the law on personal property tax, notably to exempt snowmachines and ATVs held for personal use and subsistence use.
There was no public comment during hearing on the issue.
Councilman Jerald Brown opened the Council’s discussion.
“It goes to something you’ve said a lot, Mayor [Richard Beneville]. We live in a gold rush culture that exists within a culture that has lasted for thousands of years,” Brown said. He was mostly of western European culture, but he did work for a Native corporation and had married into the [Alaska Native] culture, he observed.
“We need to recognize subsistence as an important way of life, sustaining a culture. For a slim majority, this is one small way to do that. In looking at the ordinance, my opinion is we should have this [snowmachine and ATV exempted], even if we change it in other ways.”
She didn’t want to want amend the ordinance by piecemeal, Councilwoman Jennifer Reader said. The ordinance needed wordsmithing, she added. She would not support it.
“If you are going to say subsistence, why not add boats? The figures say $8,000 [revenue] for snowmachines and ATVs, I don’t know what boats would do,” Reader said.
It was suggested that the ordinance needs a comprehensive look-over and the issue could be handled with instruments like licensing rather than personal property tax.
The ordinance was not going into effect till next year, acting City Manager John Handeland said. If the Council wanted to adopt the ordinance as placeholder, hopefully it could be cleaned up before the next time it was considered, he suggested.
“If I have a snow machine, how many times do I have to use for subsistence, instead of recreation?” Reader asked.
“This will not be until February. Tax bills are already out, it won’t make difference,” Handeland said.
Councilwoman Meghan Sigvanna Topkok took the floor.
Subsistence is a way of life, yes. “We are raising the mill rate, it is a small break to those who use subsistence,” she said. “I know we want to look at the tax schedule, so I feel we should make some tweaks and address vehicles, put in boats.”
The amount of time the vehicles were used for subsistence could be on the honor system, Topkok said.
Brown had another idea.
“Pretty much people are in agreement not to have personal property tax at all. We should make it right. No sense voting on something we could make right, do something better than what we have here,” Brown said.
Topkok wanted to see time lines so the ordinance did not fade away.
The Council could postpone the exemption ordinance and bring it back in August.
The Council needed to have another work session and not let the ordinance die, Reader said.
The Council voted to postpone the ordinance till the Aug. 26 Council meeting and have a work session prior to the meeting.
A motion from Councilman Jerald Brown to amend the General Fund Budget to increase the Nome Preschool contribution from $65,000 to $75,000 did not make it past Council members Jennifer Reader and Adam Martinson. The motion failed 3-2. Councilman Doug Johnson was excused from attendance,
Allotting $75,000 this year would produce the expectation of $75,000 for the Nome Preschool next year, when money might be even tighter, Reader argued. The issue was sustainability, she said.
“Everyone was ok with $65,000, now you come back with $10,000 more—sustainability!” Reader chided Brown.
Otherwise, Council adopted the budget ordinances unanimously:
• City of Nome General Fund Municipal budget, $14,185,322.
• City of Nome School Debt Service Fund Budget, $730,900.
• City of Nome Special Revenue Fund Budget, $307,769.
• City of Nome Capital Projects Fund Budget, $312,062.
• City of Nome Construction Capital Projects Fund Budget, $275,000, school related construction, renovation, repairs, and major installation projects.
• City of Nome Port of Nome Capital Fund Budget, $1,712,196,
• City of Nome Port of Nome Capital Projects Fund Budget, $2,238,103. The Nome Port Commission approved the two port budgets on May 16 and forwarded them to the Council for approval.
Going on to consider new business, the Council considered four resolutions:
The Council voted unanimously to postpone a resolution till July 8 that would authorize the City Manager to enter an agreement with the Nome Chamber of Commerce and City of Nome for operation of the Nome Convention and Visitors Bureau, NCVB for short.
The money would be the same as FY 2019—$175,000. Just as last year, Paul Kosto objected to the amount, saying it was not enough, not enough to attract quality people, that the Chamber of Commerce was having to subsidize the NCVB.
“I’d like the City to be serious by funding the Visitors Center fully,” Kosto said. Some Council members were ready to amend the budget for more money. However, Handeland said he wanted to have a work session for a look a options. The Council approved unanimously two resolutions authorizing the hire of the City’s state lobbyist, Wendy Chamberlain of Legislative Consultants and Jay Sterne, of Windward Strategies, as lobbyist for federal issues. The contracts will roll on with the same pay, terms and conditions as last year: $75,000 for Chamberlain and $48,000 for Sterne, of which the Port of Nome pays 75 percent.
In a fourth resolution, the Council approved the City’s schedule of rentals, user fees and fines, without change from FY 2019, except for a fee for cemetery burials on weekends.
Beneville in mayor’s comments saluted all the volunteers who made the parade, raft race and Midnight Sun festival such successes.