City easing tax payers into acceptance of new collection system
By Diana Haecker
A lot has happened since last summer and an ordinance passed last July has slipped people’s mind, but is now being implemented, as the city’s administration is rolling out a new sales and bed tax collection system, moving the filing online.
In anticipation of a rocky start, City Clerk Bryant Hammond preemptively asked the Nome Common Council in their first meeting of the year for leeway on forgiving small amounts of sales and bed tax penalties and interest fees if business owners have a hard time to adjusting to the new system, and hence filing late. Usually, if entities or private persons ask for penalty or interest forgiveness, Hammond brings it to the Council, and the body then considers forgiveness on a case-by-case basis. “But people are nervous about filing online,” Hammond told the Council. Hence, he proposed a resolution which would give him administrative freedom to forgive penalties for the first month of the transition, for the amount of up to $100. For those who don’t have the ability to file online, the City will install a kiosk at City Hall where people can file online, but that kiosk is not yet up and running. Council member Mark Johnson proposed an amendment to the resolution to extend the period to the first quarter of 2023 and to increase the amount to $500. The council concurred and adopted the resolution authorizing the city clerk and city manager to forgive small amounts of penalty and interest incurred as a direct result of transitioning to the LocalGov sales and bed tax collection platform.
In other business, the Council voted on three resolutions brought forth by the Nome Joint Utilities Board to approve collective bargaining agreements between NJUS employees and the IBEW Local 1547 (for the line crew), the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302 (for power plant operators) and the Alaska Public Employees Association. The labor agreements expired with the last day of 2022, and negotiations began in the fall to extend the current terms for one year and adding an eight percent pay increase, split between wages and pension, and a five percent increase to the capped contributions to medical insurance plans. The Council adopted all three resolutions.
A brief discussion ensued over the request from Nome Public Schools Superintendent Jamie Burgess to retain funds that were reimbursed from the state to the district for the renovation of the ACSA bathrooms and to use the money for a project improving the entrances to Nome-Beltz Junior Middle High School and at the Nome Elementary School. The ACSA project was funded by the City of Nome and the state reimbursed the district for $258,551, or 70 percent of the total, for the restroom remodel. The Rather than passing the reimbursement money back to the City, Superintendent Burgess suggested that the district keep the funds and apply it to an estimated $328,168 project that would replace the entrance and bus doors at NBHS, redo the concrete of both those entrances, remodel the bus entrance, update the ADA automatic entries at NES and NBHS and install an entry camera in the vestibules of both buildings with the ability to remote release locked doors to increase security. Council member Scot Henderson asked why this is not going through the regular budgeting process. A chance for amending the budget will be next month. The Council tasked City Manager Glenn Steckman to request more information from Burgess and will deliver answers at the next meeting.
In other business, the Council amended the ordinance that created the Public Safety Advisory Commission to reduce the number of commissioners from nine to seven. The commission in the past has struggled to make quorum and fill its ranks and with the reduction to seven sitting members, quorum will be reached when four are present. The council voted unanimously to pass the reduction in commission seats.
The Council also passed a resolution allocating $2,500 to the Nome Kennel Club to replace the newly erected trail tripods on the Iditarod Trail between Nome and Topkok that were destroyed by flooding caused by typhoon Merbok in mid-September. The funds came out of the NSEDC Community Benefit Share for recovery efforts related to damage caused by Merbok.
Kirsten Bey and Jessica Lemaire with the Nome Kennel Club addressed the Council during the public comment period, thanking the council for the allocation.
City Manager Glenn Steckman announced a Leadership Summit spearheaded by Kawerak that was to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a Thursday Workforce Summit hosted by the Denali Commission.
He also reported that while many positions still remain open, the Nome Police Department has hired a new police officer who will make his home in Nome and will start next month. “We have still more positions to fill, not due to the lack of trying,” said Steckman. “At 3.5 percent unemployment rate, it’s hard to find employees.”
Mayor John Handeland reports that the NSEDC heating fuel subsidy, which was applied as credit to NJUS customers, has been implemented. Handeland reports that 107 households were added on, some of them replacing the 90 people that moved away from Nome since the last NSEDC energy subsidy was doled out last spring.
In an emotional closing of the council meeting Handeland acknowledge the passing of three people dear to Nome, at the end of 2022. Choked up he spoke of the untimely death of Alaska State Troopers employee Curtis Worland who died of a wound inflicted by a musk oxen. Then, Steffen Anderson passed. On the last day of 2022, long time reporter and journalist Sandra L. Medearis died in Florida, who has for many years reported for The Nome Nugget on the City of Nome, local government and other regional stories. “She had a whole lot of love for this community,” Handeland said, fighting back tears.
The council went into executive session to discuss matters that may adversely impact city finances. No action was taken afterward.
Prior to the regular council meeting Kawerak’s Environmental Program Director Anahma Shannon gave a presentation to council members on a proposed partnership between the City and Kawerak to create and operate a proper recycling center in Nome.