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City Council to Review COVID-19 Measures, Recap of Previous Meeting

Papers in Nome City Council chambers

The Nome Common Council will meet for their regular session tonight but with some special considerations in place to prevent the potential spread of the coronavirus. The Council will meet in City Hall as usual but is asking the public to only participate via email, by calling in, and or listening to KNOM Radio’s live broadcast.

The agenda is fairly light, comprised mainly of a review of emergency ordinances that the City Manager passed over the last month. Since Governor Mike Dunleavy issued two new mandates over the weekend, one of which was a statewide shelter in place order, the City will not be able to relax restrictions on public facilities, non-essential businesses or non-essential air-travel until at least April 11th.

There is no new business listed on the City Council’s agenda.

Tonight’s meeting will be the first regular meeting for the Council since March 10th. In that meeting they decided that vessels returning to the Port of Nome this upcoming season will be paying an increased tariff rate.

Port users will see a 10% increase on all rates and charges at the Nome Port. Commissioner Scot Henderson explains that’s a move all Nome Port Commissioners voted for.

“I think we all recognized a significant need to start setting aside funds to address the maintenance issues that are continually popping up with our aging infrastructure.”

While the Port has hesitated to raise tariff rates in recent years, they decided with this tariff that they will include a rate increase based off of the 5-year Anchorage Consumer Price Index. They reasoned that this would allow the Port of Nome to keep up with the cost of inflation. 

In addition to the new tariff, last regular meeting the Council also passed four ordinances related to the Nome Joint Utility System (NJUS).

The Council approved both the 2019 Operations and Maintenance Budget and Capital Investments Budget for NJUS. Utility Manager John Handeland shared that NJUS gained 30 customers and made a profit of $450,000 last year. Handeland admits that the budget was approved by the Utility Board in August but it was overlooked and therefore delayed in getting to the City Council.

Likewise, the Council approved the 2020 Operations and Maintenance Budget and Capital Investments Budget for NJUS. Major capital projects for this year included $160,000 in maintenance for the tank farm and a new fire suppression system for the Generator 12 building in the old power plant. As of the March 10th meeting, Handeland shared that NJUS has a power plant run by eight employees: the minimum amount needed to maintain 24/7 operations.

NJUS Manager Handeland also mentioned that the Utility Board would be looking to re-examine the rate structures for power and water/sewer. Those rates have not been changed since 2015 and 2016 respectively.

“The revenues that have been derived based on those rates has been sufficient for the utility to maintain a positive operating position, stay current on its obligations, and generate cash for some capital improvements. But we are all well aware that the grant opportunities with the state have dried up here and we have had to fund, through loans, some of the water and sewer activity.”

The Council also adopted an ordinance to bring Nome within full compliance with all taxing jurisdictions for the Alaska Remote Sellers Sales Tax Commission. The City voted to become a member of the Commission in late 2019 and agreed to adopt the full code.

Tonight’s City Council meeting begins at 7PM. Nome residents are not allowed to attend in person, but they may e-mail their public comments to the City Manager at manager@nomealaska.org.

Image at top: Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM file