ALL IN THE SAME TACO BOAT – Sitkans, many wearing face masks, line up this afternoon at the Sitka Elks Lodge food booth. With the pandemic, most of this year’s Sitka Independence Day events have been modified, but not entirely canceled. The American Legion and Sizzling Chow Cuisine also will have outdoor food booths. While there’s no downtown parade, there is a parade of classic cars that will tour Sitka streets beginning at 1 p.m. at Whale Park. A sing-along and military salute will take place on Totem Square 7 p.m. Friday and a fireworks display will take place 11:30 Friday night over Sitka Channel, with spectators asked to follow social distancing recommendations. The Rotary Club is holding its annual Duck Race on the fourth. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Sitka Bill Payers To Share $4.5M

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

The Assembly on Tuesday moved forward with programs intended to provide relief to Sitkans and businesses harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To that end, members passed three ordinances on introduction that would:

– establish the CARES Act Utilities Costs Subsidization Program. The ordinance sets up the requirements for the program to provide utilities relief of up to $1,000 for individuals and up to $3,000 for businesses experiencing economic hardships due to the pandemic.

– establish the CARES Act Moorage Costs Subsidization Program, to help with moorage payments.

– appropriate $4.5 million in federally provided CARES Act funds to cover the cost of the above ordinances. The funds would come out of the $14 million expected for Sitka in COVID-19 relief.

All three ordinances are to be up for final reading and public hearing at the June 9 Assembly meeting.

In related business, the Assembly unanimously passed a resolution accepting the $14 million in CARES Act funds. The Assembly has scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Thursday to discuss uses of the remainder of the CARES Act relief funds.

Special reports at the meeting included comments by U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, and information about the Wild Fish Conservancy lawsuit (see related stories, this page.)

Six members of the Assembly attended, all in person, at Harrigan Centennial Hall: Thor Christianson, Kevin Mosher, Valorie Nelson, Steven Eisenbeisz, Richard Wein and Mayor Gary Paxton. Kevin Knox was absent.

CARES Act Relief

Christianson and Mosher co-sponsored the ordinances on utility and moorage subsidies.

If the ordinances pass on final reading, the application period for those relief programs would run through July 31, with funds disbursed no earlier than August, the finance department said today.

City Administrator John Leach was listed as the sponsor for setting aside $4.5 million in CARES Act funds to cover the cost of the two relief programs, under a Special Revenue Fund for CARES Act spending.

Special Revenue Fund

Speaking in favor of setting aside funds for utility and moorage relief, Christianson said the $4.5 million cost was derived as a “worst case scenario” if all qualified Sitkans applied for the program.

“I don’t think everyone is going to apply,” he added.

Both Mosher and Christianson said their idea is to create a simple process to get help as soon as possible to those affected by the pandemic.

The vote on the $4.5 million appropriation was 5-1, with Steven Eisenbeisz opposed. He said he was in favor of both moorage and utility relief, but thought moorage should be considered with relief set aside for mortgage, rent and lease payments.

“It needs to be in a different phase of relief efforts,” he said today.

Paxton said he is looking forward to getting input from citizens and businesses on other relief needed, and create a strategic plan for spending going forward. 

Wein said he has his own draft list of priorities for spending CARES Act funds, including planning for the future of the community.

He added today, “It needs to be spent thoughtfully – we should act as though we will never get additional funding.”

On the question of whether $4.5 million was too much for the utility and moorage subsidy programs, Nelson said that the Assembly could do a budget adjustment at a later time.

Utility Relief

Ordinance 2020-28, authorizing utility bill subsidies, also sets criteria and an application process. Christianson said his goal is to “keep it simple, get money into people’s hands.”

A few noted that the money would end up back in city coffers, since utility payments go to the city.

The utilities cost subsidy for each eligible residential applicant is set in the ordinance as a “one-time credit on account in the amount of $1,000.”

The subsidy for eligible businesses is “a one-time credit on account” for $3,000.

Moorage Relief

Ordinance 2020-29 passed on introduction by a 5-1 vote, with Eisenbeisz opposed. He said he’s in favor of moorage relief, but felt it should be included with relief for rent, mortgages and leases.

Co-sponsors cited the need to help the fishing fleet, as well as the liveaboard community.

“The subsidy for each eligible applicant shall be the maximum of moorage costs billed for one quarter of the calendar year,” the ordinance says.

With its passage on first reading, it will be taken up for a final vote at the June 9 Assembly meeting.

Other Business

The Assembly in other business:

– voted unanimously on first reading to refinance about $7 million in an outstanding Alaska Energy Authority loan, through the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank. It will be up for final reading June 9.

– voted 3-3 to remove the requirement in city code that the fire department have an assistant chief. It will go on for second reading, since four “no” votes are needed to kill an ordinance on first reading.

The city code says: “The department shall consist of a fire chief and assistant chief (or chiefs) and as many other positions as may be necessary for the effective operation of the department.”

The position has been vacant since the last assistant fire chief retired a few years ago.

Voting in favor of removing it from the code were Wein, Nelson and Mosher, with some of them commenting that the administrator still has the flexibility to hire an assistant chief if necessary.

Christianson, Eisenbeisz and Paxton voted against removing it from the code.

Arguments for keeping the requirement for an assistant chief included the assistant’s role in overseeing training, filling in when the chief is on vacation, and other duties. Christianson added that cutting the position doesn’t necessarily result in savings.

In other business, the Assembly voted 4-2 on first reading to move the “Reports” section to the end of the meeting. Voting against were Wein and Eisenbeisz. It will be up for final reading June 9.

Passage of the ordinance would mean comments from the mayor, administrator, attorney, liaison representatives and city clerk will be at the end of the meeting instead of the beginning.

Nelson and Mosher co-sponsored the ordinance. Nelson said Reports came at the end of the meeting, when she served on the Assembly more than 10 years ago, and believes it worked well.

She said sometimes the Reports took a lot of time, and delayed action on other agenda items with citizens waiting to testify.

“(Reports) are lower priority and can be reported at the end of the meeting,” she said.

Christianson agreed.

“I’d rather focus more on the core business of the group,” he said. “And it’s the way we used to do it.”

Wein voted against. He said board and commission members put considerable time into their work, and the results should receive attention at the top of the meeting.

“This is the only time to give detail,” he said. 

Nelson agreed that boards and commission efforts are important, but felt the Reports worked better at the end of the meeting.

Mosher added, “This isn’t meant to be divisive. It’s been done (this way) before. It was tried and true.”

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 7-2-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 11:15 a.m. Wednesday.

New cases as of Monday: 39

Total statewide – 1,017

Total (cumulative) deaths – 14

Active cases in Sitka – 8 (6 resident; 2 non-resident)

Recovered cases in Sitka – 10 (7 resident; 3 non-resident)

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 68.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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