Council: Alcohol sales restriction ordinance fails
By Diana Haecker
After months of work sessions, debates at regular meetings and hearing angry testimony from Nome residents, an attempt to curb by ordinance hard liquor sales through package stores failed in the first reading on Monday during a regular session of the Nome Common Council.
For years, citizens of Nome and council members have debated how to eradicate public intoxication on Front Street but a solution has yet to be found. The ordinance, which proposed to limit hours of liquor sales and mandate security personnel at liquor package stores, among other things, was viewed as one tool that the city may wield in the fight against alcoholism and substance abuse in the public eye. The idea to the ordinance stemmed from recent discussions dealing with the renewal of a package store liquor license and the desire to have a uniform law on the books, applicable to all three of Nome’s package liquor stores. The state’s Alcohol Marijuana Control Office notified the city of a liquor license renewal, which put Nome Quick Stop — a liquor and convenience store on Front Street — in the center of debate. The council commented on that particular license renewal that stipulations should be attached to the renewal, and then the council decided to make an attempt to formulate an ordinance that would apply to all package stores selling liquor. Despite work sessions and lengthy debates on the matter over the past two months, the ordinance died a quick death on Monday. With five councilmembers present, four votes were needed to advance the ordinance into second reading, but only three affirmative votes were cast. Voting for the ordinance were Scot Henderson, Jerald Brown and Megan Sigvanna Topkok; the nay’s were cast by Adam Martinson and Mark Johnson. In councilmember comments, Scot Henderson remarked that he appreciated the people who came out to submit public comment during previous discussions, but also said that he heard from constituents who didn’t want to invest time in showing up as they predicted nothing would be accomplished. Henderson said, indeed, nothing but a good discussion wasaccomplished.
In other business, the Council breezed through second readings of ordinances amending the city’s budgets for the general fund, school debt service fund, Special Revenue fund, capital projects fund, port of Nome fund and the port of Nome capital projects fund.
The ordinance adopting the new Port of Nome Tariff, however, generated some discussion, especially the gravel rates. The measure was in its second reading and during discussion at the last council meeting, Councilmember Scot Henderson requested a financial note and what the steep discounts mean in terms of actual dollar amounts. Port staff presented the numbers at the meeting, plus two alternatives that offered less severe discounts.
Gravel exports over the docks have dramatically increased last year to over 300,000 tons. The port commission proposed a five-tiered schedule of fees, with the steepest discount given to exports over 300,000 tons at $1.23 per ton, or 55 percent of the base rate which was CPI adjusted to $2.23. Public Works Director Cole Cushman addressed the Council, saying that they need to take into consideration that there is significant wear and tear on the causeway road and that his department had to spend between $35-40,000 to fix up the road from the heavy truck traffic. Hold on, said Councilmember Henderson, it doesn’t make sense to offer these steep discounts if “we increase our costs and decrease our revenue.”
Port Director Joy Baker presented two alternatives and after a failed vote to adopt one, the Council voted on a fee schedule giving a 15 percent discount to the highest tonnage of the $2.23 base rate, namely $1.90 per ton.
The Council then unanimously voted to adopt the new Port of NomeTariff in its entirety.
In other business the Council tabled a discussion on inactive chauffeur licenses.
The Council voted on a resolution supporting the Alaska Affordable Housing Trust, a statewide funding source that aims to create sustainable housing security for Alaskans. City Manager Glenn Steckman commented that Nome is in a crisis stage in terms of housing, which is reflected in the city’s federal priorities list: “Housing and Port expansion costs are our two big issues,” Steckman said.
In comments, Mayor John Handeland said that the Iditarod activities start this week in Anchorage with a 50-year celebration, a Gala event, the ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday and the restart of the race in Willow on Sunday. He said the winner is expected on Front Street on Tuesday, March 15 and that the banquet will take place, albeit at half capacity and a vaccination card must be produced to enter.
Handeland also appointed Melisssa Ford to an open seat of the Planning Commission and the Council unanimously voted to confirm the appointment.
The council then entered into an executive session and emerged out of the session without taking any action.