Council stamps “approved” on NJUS operating budget

The Nome Common Council took up several big-ticket money measures on the Jan. 25 regular meeting agenda. Other discussion covered benefit shares, fuel prices and a get-together in Orlando.

The Nome Joint Utility Board adopted the budget, and according to Nome’s city law, handed it up to the council for final approval, which it did unanimously. The operating and maintenance budget rests on estimated revenues of $13,116,250; Operating and Maintenance expenses of $11,283,117 (prior to noncash depreciation); and a net operating margin of $1,833,133.

The cash margins would be used to pay for required equipment overhaul, annual bond and debt service principal payments, and fuel inventory, which are not a part of the operating and maintenance budget.

During 2015, a major overhaul of one of the utility’s two 5.5-megawatt Wartsila generators was projected to cost $350,000 for parts and outside Wartsila company help. However, the job needed additional piston parts and additional Wartsila tech time, adding $150,000 to the cost. Plant mechanic labor cost of $90,000 expended on the overhaul would be budgeted as operated expense, Handeland said.

The utility has budgeted to move ahead with upgrades to computer controls and also $20,000 to upgrade the smaller wind turbines at Banner Ridge Windfarm.

“There is value to maintaining these Entegrity units to contribute at times when the wind is lower and they can augment the utility’s two 900-kilowatt EWT wind turbines,” Utilities Manager John K. Handeland said.


Lower fuel surcharge?

After undergoing questions from council members scrutinizing the FY16 spending plan, Handeland told the council that the kind of fuel used for the utilities’ generators at today’s price was around 90 cents per gallon. If the price were to hold till barges load the NJUS supply this summer, with 28 cents added on to cover transportation and other costs, plus three to four cents for the port delivery, the price per gallon would be appreciatively lower than last summer’s cost of over $2 per gallon. This year’s “adder” is down from last year’s adder of 38 cents per gallon.

 “With the price where it sits, we would need to lower the fuel surcharge [to rate payers] and amend the budget for generator fuel,” Handeland said.

However, experience has shown that fuel prices go higher in the summer. Bulk fuel prices are figured by the price on the day of loading, or the average price in the month of lifting, or on a three-day wrap around the day of lifting. NJUS has opted for the month of lift pricing, this year, Handeland told the council.

The good news could get better. Based on an estimated need of 2.2 million gallons and a slight buffer in left over fuel inventory—if prices stay in this range, the 2016-2017 fuel borrowings would be in the $3.3 million range, down from $6 million last year.


Other business

In other business, the council decided to adopt a “skeletal” ordinance that provides for regulation of commercial marijuana trade within city limits. The ordinance essentially set only hours of operation, councilman Louie Green Sr. pointed out. However, consensus among council members was to adopt the ordinance as a placeholder on the local law book that would be amended later as more clarity developed in concert with state regulations.

The council affirmed in a resolution the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp Community Benefit Shares totaling $150,000. While half the money went to children’s organizations like Boys and Girls Club, money to other organizations such as Bering Sea Women’s Shelter and Nome Food Bank also helped children, councilman Stan Andersen stressed.

The council introduced budget amendments to six spending year budgets, adjusting midyear projections to current needs. However, according to Roberts Rules of Order, no discussion occurred during first reading. The council will have several work sessions before scheduling second reading, public hearing and final passage. The first work session was scheduled for Jan. 28, Thursday, at noon.

Mayor Richard Beneville announced the members of the Ad-Hoc Cemetery Committee.

Beneville credited former Mayor Denise Michels for endeavoring to establish the volunteer committee to restore the memorial from dilapidation and “less than perfect recordkeeping.” Beneville continued the effort by soliciting nominations from applicable organizations and affirmed the following membership: Stan Andersen and Lew Tobin, Nome Common Council; Sara Lizak and Ken Hughes, Nome Planning Commission; Cussy Kauer and Dave McDowell, Museum and Library Commission; Bertha Koweluk and Julie Farris, Nome Rotary Club; and Leo Rasmussen, former mayor and community member.

Cheryl Thompson, museum collections assistant, has volunteered to serve as staff liaison between the committee and the City’s administration.


Orlando, anyone?

During council comments before adjournment, Lew Tobin brought up a “business in town whose board members are traveling to Orlando in April”, and noted that councilman Stan Andersen currently occupies the City of Nome seat on that board, thus opening the door for more information on a rumored junket by hospital board members to the Disney World of Mickey, Minnie and Goofy. Did the trip budget also include board members’ families? Tobin wanted to know.

“Do you want me to answer that?” said Andersen, who serves as board treasurer on the Norton Sound Health Corp. board of directors for Norton Sound Regional Hospital serving Nome and surrounding villages. Andersen explained that there are 24 board members who voted on the trip [at a NSHC board meeting in September]. Twenty-one voted yes, three abstained from voting.

He was one of three who abstained from voting, but the remaining 21 NSHC board members approved the trip, Andersen reported.  Airplane tickets would come from mileage accrued through NSHC’s Alaska Airlines EasyBiz travel incentive account derived from patient and employee travel, Andersen explained. The board was attending the Orlando meeting because top dogs from national level hospital organizations would be there, Andersen added, so NSHC board members would have an opportunity to network with them. Families of board members could go along, but they had to cover their own expenses, Andersen said.

“We went to Las Vegas last year,” Andersen said, and remarked later that the travel information was not a secret and board meetings open for public attendance.

“It’s in our bylaws,” he said.

The meeting is the 2016 Tribal Self-Government Annual Consultation Conference, slated for April 24-29 at the Buena Vista Palace Resort and Spa in Orlando, billing itself as an Official Walt Disney World Hotel, with conference facilities. Rooms at conference rate range from $115 per night to $155, with family rooms adding $10 per night; tower view rooms go for considerably more. Early-bird registration for the conference is $375 per person, due by a March deadline.

After the council meeting Jan. 25, Andersen said the trip’s budget had not been presented yet, but he would be attending a meeting Jan. 26 where he expected more details. He confirmed that the daily allowance, the per diem for board travel was $75 a day for food, and confirmed that board members receive $300 lump sum for attending meetings whether they are, say, an hour or six or eight hours in length, coming to $375 a day if one does the math.

The federal Indian Health Service lists the conference on its website under Events Calendar where it urges attendance by tribal leaders, tribal health directors and tribal staff, and suggests lodging at the Buena Vista Palace Resort and Spa:

“The 2016 Annual Self-Governance Conference welcomes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Indian Health Service, U.S. Department of the Interior – Bureau of Indian Affairs and American Indian and Alaska Native [AI/AN] Tribes to convene a national consultation conference to renew and strengthen partnerships between AI/AN and Federal government officials by addressing AI/AN health policy issues sharing best practices, and formulating recommendations for improvement,” from the BIA Web site. “The conference provides essential Self-Governance training that is available to new Tribes seeking to enter Self-Governance and for Federal employees whose scope of work falls within the purview of Self-Governance.”

The agenda shows a plenary meeting each day with presentations from federal Dept. of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Dept. of Health and Human Services, and Indian Health Service, with tribal caucuses and breakout sessions interspersed throughout the days.

Tobin also asked about employees’ retirement accounts. Andersen assured him the accounts are paid and up to date.

The other two board members who abstained from the vote on Orlando are Brian James, Village of Solomon, and Preston Rookok, Native Village of Savoonga.

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Nome, Alaska 99762

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