Council sets state, federal priorities
By Diana Haecker
The Nome Common Council discussed federal and state priorities at last Monday’s regular meeting and passed two resolutions to prioritize capital projects. On top of the state list was the wish to create state incentives for new housing development as the housing crunch in Nome has reached a crisis point. In line with housing developments, other priorities include the support for a new teacher/public safety housing complex, water and sewer upgrades, the utility tank relocation, emergency preparedness center upgrades, the covered ice rink/multi-use recreational structure and road paving and dust control. City manager Glenn Steckman said that white papers will follow with description and dollar amount to each of the priorities, for the council’s review.
The federal wish list was a bit smaller and included the reduction of the City of Nome’s cost share portion for the Arctic Deep Draft Port construction and increased funding or subsidies for rural communities suffering from inadequate housing.
Steckman reported that the city’s federal lobbyist Jay Stern recommended that after the long COVID-forced hiatus of travel to the capital, the city should send a delegation to Washington D.C. to meet with the congressional delegation and pertinent agencies.
In other business, the Council approved an agreement between the City of Nome and the City of Nome Employees Association, giving non-exempt employees a 3.8 percent raise in addition to their scheduled step increases, increasing starting pay for police dispatch communications officers, creating a new NPD investigator position. Steckman said the increase would cost the city approximately $230,000.
In second reading, the Nome Common Council passed an ordinance change that reduced the number of commissioners on the Public Safety Advisory Commission from nine to seven. This would also reduce the number of commissioners present for a quorum from five to four. The commission in the past had a hard time filling its nine seats and often couldn’t reach quorum for its regular meetings.
The Council also gave its approval to purchase two new Toyo stoves for the Nome Visitor Center as it’s being remodeled and in another resolution, ok’d the hiring of a firm to evaluate and analyze the 911 and radio communications system of the emergency responders and NPD. With Council’s approval the bid will be awarded to the tune of $59,000 to Federal Engineering Inc.
City Manager Steckman reported good news that for unknown reasons, calls for police and for ambulance services are down. According to numbers from NEST, the average nightly attendance is about 27 guests.
Steckman also mentioned an uptick in COVID cases, including several city employees who have been diagnosed last week. The city is still distributing facemasks, available at City Hall, the Rec Center and the library.
He asked – and was granted the request to upgrade one temporary position in the building maintenance crew to a full time position, arguing that it would allow the city to continue improvements to city-owned facilities at a lower cost if performed by staff.
During council member comments, Scot Henderson asked about the City’s obligation to find a four-acre parcel for a man camp during port construction. Why, he wanted to know, can the private sector not be involved in this opportunity?
Port Director Joy Baker explained that per agreement with the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the non-federal sponsor, which is the City, must offer a four-acre plot with reasonable access to water, sewer and electricity for the contractor to stand up a man camp for an estimated 80 people. Glenn Steckman added that the Corps knows about the city’s dire housing situation and didn’t want to add to the stress on housing. Henderson said he heard from several entities in Nome and it typically is the contractor’s responsibility to house their employees. “Why is the private sector taking a backseat at this?” Henderson asked.
“Because the federal government is asking us,” Steckman answered. He said the issue is that if the private sector doesn’t come up with a suitable site, there is fear that this port project would take away housing from the general public. As an example, Steckman said, the private sector didn’t step up in Fairbanks when military assets there were expanded. Port Director Joy Baker added that they had these discussions with the Corps. “The onus is on the non-federal sponsor of the project and they cannot budge because they can’t engage with the private sector,” she said.
The city is also obligated to provide laydown space for materials as construction is underway.
Mayor John Handeland added that the city must offer those four acres, but that the contractor is not obligated to take what is offered.