Council urged to be part of solution to curb public intoxication

At their meeting Monday evening, the Nome Common Council drank a lot of coffee and spent a little cash, but otherwise had a light agenda.
The panel, all present except Mark Johnson, attending by phone, voted unanimously to spend $61,620 with the Board of Trade, which Jim West Jr. is doing gravel business as, to get 3,000 tons of crushed aggregate for designated locations for smoother rides over Nome’s roads. BOT beat out the only other bidder, Charlie Reader’s Q Trucking, which bid $69,750, or $8,130 higher than BOT. That pencils to $20.45 per ton vs. $23.25 per ton.
The Council unanimously turned down a bid award for 1,500 tons of fill for expansion work going on at the cemetery and for park maintenance; they decided to seek better a price for the material. Councilman Stanley Andersen led the rejection of the material that had gone up in price since the City purchased it in 2013. The low bid, also cast by BOT, came at $18,950; the Council had budgeted only $10,000 for the fill.
“For what we are using the dirt for, it’s expensive,” Andersen said. “We don’t have the money in the budget, so we cannot vote for it.”
City Manager Tom Moran agreed. As the cost of the fill fell under the procurement law that required a competitive bid for jobs over $39,999, he could dicker with the cost of the fill to get it lower if the Council rejected the low bid before them.
They did and he will renegotiate.
Q Trucking had bid $28,500 to provide the fill for the cemetery and the parks.
The Council also heard from Bridie Trainor of Nome Emergency Shelter Team and Lance Johnson, manager of NSHC Behavior Health Dept. who urged that the Council change the old library and museum building to a sleep-off, sobering site and day shelter to deal with inebriates, with an Alano club upstairs, a social gathering area to support people who had stopped drinking. Additionally, they would like to see a 10 percent excise tax on booze, to pay for services to inebriates.  On some nights, NEST was serving as many as 38 persons at the shelter in the winter, Trainor said, a practice that would not continue, as the organization would have to cap the number. NEST is open during the winter, and only at night. Next winter, “we are going to have to turn people away,” she said. “There needs to be a contingency plan.”
Johnson stressed that the homeless and inebriation issue in Nome needs a shared solution, that in the past, temporary solutions had depended on single sources.  
“It’s not a City problem, it’s not a Behavior Health Service problem. It’s our problem and a regional problem,” Johnson said.
Not so fast, Andersen said. The City cannot by law dedicate a tax to a certain earmark, he said.
“Why should responsible drinkers pay more?” Andersen asked, adding that there needed to be a public discussion.
Johnson agreed, saying that persons from agencies and government needed to have a “sit down” to see how we could take care of the problem as a community.
“We are ones that are saying ‘Look at these behaviors. Why doesn’t someone do something about it?’  Sooner or later someone has to pony up,” Johnson said.
During the public comment period toward the beginning of the meeting, Angela Gorn, CEO of Norton Sound Health Corp. reported on recent happenings at the hospital organization. Two clinics will open this summer, one in Gambell, one in Savoonga, each containing 5,200 sq. ft. additional services. A new wellness and training center will open that will have BHS programs, a short-term detox center with eight beds, and a health aide training center. Primary care will soon have extended hours from Monday through Thursday, open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Paul Bioff, an intern with NSHC public relations department, also gave a report on his activities.

In other business, the Council:
• Voted unanimously to lower the pet surrender fee from $150 to $40. City staff has observed that people tend to abandon their unwanted animals in the streets rather than pay $150 to put them in the Animal Control program, as required by law. The fee pays for sheltering animals that owners turn into the City’s Animal Control program because they need new homes. For five days’ shelter, food and service from the animal control officer, $40 seemed sufficient, Moran said. Animals turned into the City get placement in local homes. People may also hand their dogs to the nonprofit pet advocacy program PAWS. In that case, PAWS staff sends the pet to a non-kill rescue organization in Anchorage, the city manager told the Council. “If it keeps people from dumping their dogs on the street, I’m in favor,” Councilman Tom Sparks said.
Other members of the Council agreed.
However, the rehoming program will not take just anybody. Furry pets must be more than 10 weeks old, have proof of vaccinations, and have an affidavit that the animal is not aggressive and has not harmed another animal or a human being. The Council commended Dawn Ubelaker for her dedicated work.
• Accepted the 2017 Phase 1 Port of Nome Analysis put together by Cordova Consulting. The study cost $25,000, of which the City of Nome paid $20,000 and Sitnasuak donated $5,000, according to Moran. The assessment deals with a limited scope of services based on specific experience by Port of Nome regarding Arctic vessel traffic trends, traffic projection scenarios and regional commodity movements.
• Received a letter from Nome Public School District Superintendent Shawn Arnold thanking the Council for the City’s support of the schools’ 2018 budget. The Council provided $400,000 to compensate for state funding cuts, then the state restored money, but under state law the City could not receive a refund. Arnold was not present at the meeting. However, in his letter he said, “Your actions have shown a commitment to educational excellence and dedication to the children of Nome. With next year’s budget, the district can preserve and even enhance programmatic offerings and current staffing while continuing to operate under the uncertainties of the state. We appreciate working closely with you as we prepared a budget that upholds the quality of education Nome has come to expect while exercising fiscal prudence for all taxpayers.”
Andersen wanted details, in a written account of where the $400,000 went, he told Moran. Otherwise, he would favor subtracting the $400,000 from future requests, Andersen said. “He [Arnold] used a lot of adjectives in this letter, platitudes and blah, blah, blah.” Andersen wanted to know if staff cuts were averted, if the librarian had been restored, and if there was a plan for funding the preschool. Councilman Jerald Brown agreed, and said he requested an update comparing the prior school budget with the new budget that included the $400,000 extra from the City. He would obtain answers, Moran said.
The Council voted to go into executive session to discuss Moran’s evaluation and contract extension.

 

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