GRAB AND GO - Library patron Tina Johnson, left, and Joanna Perensovich, information services librarian, wear masks in the Sitka Library this afternoon. The library no longer has couches for patrons, but does have computer desks widely spaced apart for people to access for one-hour periods. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

City Splits Fund Receipts 50-50 with Schools

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

The Assembly gave approval Tuesday to a budget ordinance that shares unanticipated revenues with the school district.

The Assembly also upheld a decision by city staff to deny a public records request filed by an attorney for the Northern Justice Project, an Anchorage law firm, on behalf of a former Sitka police officer.

The Assembly also:

– appointed Jeff Budd to the Sitka Library Commission.

– approved a new liquor license application and premises diagram for Harbor Mountain Brewing Company at 1209A SMC.

– approved renewal of a retail marijuana store license for Weed Dudes at 1321 SMC Suite J and K.

- set the property tax rate for fiscal year 2021 at 6 mills.

– approved a supplemental appropriation for the airport improvement project.

– re-appropriated funds from fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2021 for COVID-related expenses.

– directed the planning department to draft an RFP for the sale of 4 acres of city land (Tract A11 in Whitcomb Heights subdivision), for consideration at a future meeting. Pioneer Land Development LLC of Sitka has expressed interest in acquiring 40,000 square feet of land to develop for housing, but the Assembly wants to consider the sale of the entire parcel.

School Funding

The vote was 5-2 on final reading of a budget ordinance that transfers $229,035 in Secure Rural Schools funds to the Sitka School District.

Voting in favor were Kevin Mosher, Kevin Knox, Thor Christianson, Steven Eisenbeisz and Mayor Gary Paxton in favor; Richard Wein and Valorie Nelson voted against. The federal program limits the use of the funds to roads and schools.

The city had not expected to receive the $458,070 in Secure Rural Schools funds for fiscal year 2020, which ends June 30, and neither the city nor school district included SRS funding in the current year’s budget.

Customarily the Assembly votes to split the funds 50-50 between the city and the school district. The school board asked for the same split of the latest SRS funds, citing the need for more full-time counselors in all of the schools.

“We have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic that makes the need for mental health support for our students even more urgent,” Superintendent Mary Wegner said in her letter to the city seeking the funds.

The district currently has full time counselors at Baranof and Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary schools, and two at Sitka High, but none at Blatchley Middle School or Pacific High.

“If there’s ever a time counselors are needed, it’s this year,” said Christianson before the vote.

Mosher said he would vote in favor but was also ready for tougher budget talks with the schools next year.

In voting against the motion, Wein said the school district is eligible for CARES Act funds to help with its expenses, but the city is not. He said the Assembly funded schools “to the cap and then some,” and has requested $430,000 in CARES Act funds.

“My notion is it should be kept in the city,” Wein said. “CARES Act can’t be used for roads but it can be used for schools.”

Paxton agreed with Wein but in the end voted in favor of sharing with the school district. He said the city has already cut $2 million out of the FY21 budget, and badly needs the funds.

“We have to figure out how to pay for roads,” he said, and cited Lincoln Street as the most pressing need.

 

Appeal

The Assembly voted to deny an appeal filed by Northern Justice Project for information related to a particular police department investigation involving Ryan Silva, a former detective with the department. (In a separate case, Silva sued the city and the case was settled with a cash payment of $350,000 to Silva.)

The vote was 5-2 to deny the appeal.

Knox, Christianson, Paxton, Mosher and Eisenbeisz voted in favor of the motion to deny the appeal, and Wein and Nelson voted against.

The agenda item was considered as a quasi-judicial hearing, with each side provided time to argue its position.

Nick Feronti, an attorney for The Northern Justice Project, filed the appeal after the city denied his request for records involving a particular investigation relating to Silva. 

He argued that “public access to public information” is a fundamental right, and that the city had no grounds for denial.

In his written arguments, he said,

“The City and Borough of Sitka denied the public records request at issue based on only one fact. It claimed that the requested ‘records involve an active case that is still under investigation.’ No other facts were listed in the denial. This violates the law.”

The investigation involving Silva has been referred to Alaska State Troopers.

City Clerk Sara Peterson had issued the records denial, saying “These records involve an active case that is still under investigation.” She cited Alaska law that allows for denial if it “could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings”; “would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or impartial adjudication”; or “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of a suspect, defendant, victim or witness.”

City Attorney Brian Hanson said it was an active investigation. He said the city grants the “vast majority” of requests for public records.

“There are a handful of occasions when we deny public records requests and it’s always for the same reason,” he said. That is, for police records in an active investigation.

Assembly members had various opinions on the issue.

Nelson said she believes Feronti has the right to the information, and that she would like more information about the police department in general.

Mosher said, “When and if (Silva) is charged he will have every right to that information. He’ll get his day in court.”

Wein favored referring the matter for judicial review as to whether the records should be released or not. He added today the Assembly does not have the “full facts of the case.”

Hanson said the matter has been referred to another agency, but it is still an active investigation.

On a final item the Assembly met in executive session for 20 minutes to discuss a financial matter related to Alaska Pure Sea Salt. When members returned, they voted 7-0 to direct staff to draw up a forbearance agreement with the Sitka-based business, as discussed in executive session.

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 7-10-20)

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 noon Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 51

Total statewide – 1,323

Total (cumulative) deaths – 17

Active cases in Sitka – 5 (2 resident; 3 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 13 (11 resident; 2 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 80.

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

* These numbers reflect State of Alaska data. Local cases may not immediately appear on DHSS site, or are reported on patient’s town of residence rather than Sitka’s statistics. 

 

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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.  

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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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