City to disperse NSEDC energy subsidy as utility credit
By Diana Haecker
At last Monday’s regular Nome Common Council meeting City Manager Glenn Steckman announced the mechanism through which the city will disperse a one-time NSEDC fuel subsidy to households in and around Nome. It was decided to apply the $575 per household subsidy to Nome Joint Utility account holders, rather than navigate the complications of two different fuel vendors in town plus trying to make it equitable so that all households benefit from the relief, not only landlords who usually pay for heating fuel. Mayor John Handeland explained to the Council that the city’s finance director, the city manager and he met with NSEDC’s Paul “Bebucks” Ivanoff to find the most expedient way to get the money out the door. In order to get the funds to the intended people as quickly as possible, he said, the determination was made to do what has been done in the past and to give them a credit on utilities.
In response to the steep increase in fuel costs this year, Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation’s board declared a fuel subsidy to member communities in August. While it is comparably easy to apply the fuel funds to households in the villages, where only one fuel supplier exists and people purchase fuel directly from them, the situation in Nome is different. A large rental market in Nome complicated a fast rollout of the program as landlords would’ve been asked to pass that credit on to renters, complicating matters for all involved.
How it works: NSEDC will send the money to the City of Nome, which then sends it to NJUS. Handeland said that instead of collecting information from every eligible household again and have a new application period, NSEDC determined that NJUS could use the prior sign up that was done in March for another NSEDC energy subsidy and will give NJUS the discretion to add people who moved to Nome in the meantime. Those who are off the NJUS grid can still apply and their heating fuel supplier will receive the check from NJUS.
Under communications, the Council found a request from Finance Director Nickie Crowe to reallocate unspent funds from the 2020 and 2021 end-of-year NSEDC Community Benefit Share. Before receiving a new allocation, NSEDC wants member communities to fully expend the previous year’s money. From 2020, there were $62,456.97 unspent that were earmarked for the new Hockey Rink project, and $10,000 for unspecified youth programs. Crowe requested that the council passes a motion to reallocated the over $72,000 to go to deferred maintenance on the Nome Swimming Pool.
There were $200,000 left on the table from the 2021 end-year CBS funds, earmarked for deferred maintenance on the pool. Crowe asked to split the sum to earmark $127,542.87 for deferred pool maintenance, $10,000 for kitchen improvements in the Rec Center and $62,456.97 for the Hockey Rink. The council obliged and passed the motion.
Councilmember Sigvanna Tapqaq then introduced one of her tribal government class students, junior Avery Immingan, who as a class assignment wrote a resolution titled “Declaration of Environmental Issues in Alaska.” It stated that the City of Nome has the power to help the environment and made the case for curbing litter and trash on the tundra and the sea and made a clear connection between the health of the environment and human health. After several whereas’ statements, Immingan’s resolution called for “that we in the one world we live in, should take care of the land, sea, humans and the animals and stop trash from being left out in the environment.”
To the praise of the council, Avery read resolution and was asked to bring forward specific action that the city can take to address the issue.
Before the Council was also an AMCO notice for a liquor license renewal from Husky Restaurant. No action was taken to lodge a protest with the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board.
Ken Morton delivered the NJUS activity report and reiterated that last week’s rain and ice storm was a significant one, and that he hasn’t seen nothing like it before: he’s never seen a pole snap from icing before – as it did near the FAA housing – and he hasn’t seen meter poles being pulled by the weight of the iced-up powerlines from people’s houses.
City Manager Glenn Steckman reported that the Public Safety Advisory Commission, which also met on Monday night, voted Carol Piscoya to be the commission’s chair, and Justin Noffsker to be the vice chair. The panel in the past has had trouble filling its 9-member ranks as there are specific representation mandates, or even holding meetings for the lack of quorum. On this background, Steckman brought to the Council the commission’s request to reduce their size from nine to seven seats. Since the commission’s make-up is enshrined in a city ordinance, it will take council action to change it. Steckman said the Council will see proposed changes in their packets to vote on, come January.
During Council member comments, Scot Henderson brought up the inclusion of a pledge of allegiance to the agenda again. He asked what the best way is to resolve his request without distracting from the work that this council has to do. He inquired at what point the pledge was pulled from the agenda. Mayor Handeland answered that the pledge has never been part of the agenda and therefor it wasn’t pulled from it. He said that there are differing views on the inclusion of the pledge and that he’d like to see where the rest of the council stands on the issue. “But I will not be leading it,” Handeland said. “If it causes anguish, I will not do it.”
He said that the pledge and the flag are very near and dear to people’s hearts but also that there are different connotations not evident to everyone. He said he preferred to keep religion and patriotism to “yourself.” “If there is a second council member who would second the idea?” he asked. “If not, we’re done with it. We need to find out if the majority supports it. That’s how it works. I like everybody to be in harmony and I don’t want an issue like this to drive any wedges.” Just as Henderson said he had constituents approach him in support of saying the pledge, Councilmember Sig Tapqaq said that she had people approach her with the opposing view. “I have a number of reasons why I disagree with it,” she said. “It feels like a litmus test for our patriotism, when we already take an oath, we have a flag here. and we have a lot of important things that we’re doing throughout our time together as a council, and we don’t need to be spending time reaffirming a pledge that can be controversial to some people. If we do do the pledge, the only way I would support it is if we use an older version where it does not have the “under God.” I think it’s just equally as important, if not more important, to be recognizing the indigenous people who have been on these lands and continue to steward these lands, to recognize that we are on Native land. It can coexist with the fact that we live in the United States and in the state of Alaska,” she said.
Mayor Handeland said the issue will be taken up again in a future council meeting.
The next council meeting won’t be on Dec. 26 as scheduled, but rather will be taking place in the New Year.
Handeland announced that there will be the customary fire works display on New Year’s Eve, weather permitting.