City closes FY 16 budget with substantial surplus funds
In a lengthy regular common council meeting on Monday, Mayor Richard Beneville and Councilmen Louie Green, Lew Tobin, Stan Andersen and Jerald Brown passed several ordinances in second reading amending the city’s fiscal year 2016 budget for the purpose of closing out the budget.
With the city’s Finance Director Julie Liew in the audience, the council passed ordinances to amend the FY16 general fund municipal budget.
In a memo to the city manager, Liew noted a surplus of $1,460,841.81. The surplus is a result of additional revenue of $417,859.28 and less spending that saved the city $1,056,125.88.
The Port of Nome also saw a profitable balance sheet, with an operating surplus of $121,349.53.
Under new business, the council passed a resolution that will transfer $96,406,841 saved during a health insurance premium holiday, into an equipment replacement fund.
The council tackled under new business several ordinances that went through first reading. One of them was to adjust the application deadline for sales tax exemption from January to December 1 of the prior calendar year for which the exemption is sought. Asked how the change will be advertised, city clerk answered that it will not be announced in the Nome Nugget, the newspaper of general circulation, but on the list serve Nome Announce and by direct mailings. The ordinance passed first reading.
Also passing first reading and going into second reading was an ordinance that formalizes the election outcome to institute a seasonal increase in sales tax. “During the months of May, June, July and August, there shall be levied and collected a sales tax of seven percent of the selling price on all retail sales and rentals of goods and services in the city […],” reads the amended sales tax section.
During public comment Nome resident Mark Johnson noted that it is unfortunate that people learn after the elections that the sales tax increase was not really necessary in light of the budget surplus.
The council discussed a resolution before them that would approve a collections management policy for the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum. Museum Director Amy Phillips-Chan was present and explained the benefits of a formalized procedure to accept donations and also to dispose of items that are so far degraded to render them inappropriate for museum purposes. Stan Andersen questioned if there should be a committee to decide which donations to accept or to reject since the museum cares for the items indefinitely once they’re in the museum’s possession. Chan said that historically it was the museum director who made the call. Andersen suggested to create an acquisitions committee.
After the council passed the resolution in first reading, Chan noted that this is an important policy to have on the books. “To create this collections management policy shows that we are professionals and it is super important for museum donations, lending institutions and for grant funding,” she said.
She also said that museum cases are on the barge currently jogging in front of Nome and waiting for the weather and waves to calm down in order to offload the items safely at Nome’s port. The official opening of the museum in the new Richard Foster Building is slated for October 29.
During the city manager’s report Tom Moran mentioned that the Alaska Marine Lines barge in front of Nome has museum exhibit cases on board as well as a new fire truck, but it’s too rough to land and offload it from the barge.
In the still missing case of Joseph Balderas, Moran noted that no new leads have turned up, but that a new investigator hired by the family continues to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Balderas in July. The family offers a reward of $10,000. Councilman Stan Andersen suggested the city should donate $10,000 for a final search in the fall time. Present in the audience, and taking to the podium during citizen’s comments at the end of the meeting, was NPD Chief John Papasodora, who cautioned that the city becomes liable for the risks to city employees and other volunteers, has to pay workman’s comp, and needs to be prepared to cover claims resulting from possible injuries and equipment damage during a non-state sanctioned search.
Moran congratulated Seijiro Heck, an emergency services technician, for being the city employee for the month of August.
In an update on the stolen and crashed city truck, there are no suspects identified but the insurance company has sent a check to the city just over $19,000. NPD continues to investigate.
Moran also announced that Congressman Don Young is going to be in Nome to campaign on October 31 and Young asked the city for help to plan a haunted house Halloween celebration at Old St. Joe’s.
Moran reminded the public that a runoff election between candidates Mark Johnson and Matt Culley for Council Seat F is scheduled to take place at Old St. Joe’s on Nov. 1.
NPD Chief Papasodora presented several statistics indicating that the reduction in this year’s PFD has a positive side to it: there were less alcohol-related arrests made so far than compared to last year. From Oct. 1 through 10, there were 24 arrests this year, compared to 79 arrests last year. Papasodora noted that 2015 saw an exceptionally high number of arrests, with a total of 175 for the entire month. In 2010, there were 86 arrests in October, in 2011 there were 73 arrests, in 2012 there were 81 arrests, in 2013 it was 87 arrests, in 2014 a low number of 61 arrests and then in 2015 the number spiked at 175 arrests.
Kawerak Inc. and Eskimo Walrus Commission executive director Vera Metcalf stepped in front of the council asking for support on behalf of Kawerak to bring attention to domestic ivory ban laws that could negatively impact the traditional and legal use of walrus, mastodon and mammoth ivory. In an effort to curb the slaughter of African elephants for their ivory, laws are passed in several states that indiscriminately outlaw ivory, including walrus ivory. Kawerak and the Eskimo Walrus Commission passed a resolution requesting that walrus, mammoth and mastodon ivory be exempted from current and future ivory ban laws in the United States. Councilman Jerald Brown asked the city administration to prepare a similar resolution.
Nome Public Schools
Superintendent Shawn Arnold took to the podium joking that ‘no, I’m not here to ask for more money” but to give an update on what’s going on at the schools. He reported that several families have moved to Anchorage, resulting in a loss of nine students, which means a loss of state funding of about $180,000. A student count needs to be turned in to the state on Oct. 24 and based on that number, state funds are allocated.
Arnold said that the district is still looking to fill the position of one elementary school teacher and two early childhood teachers at Headstart and one for the Nome Preschool. He said that despite state funding for early childhood education, the money did not come in until July, which put the district at a disadvantage to hire early childhood education teachers. “If you don’t hire a teacher by May, the pool of candidates shrinks,” he said.