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City Council Offering More CARES Act Funds, Approves Purchase of Housing Property

The City of Nome is struggling to spend all of its CARES Act money before the December 30th deadline. A third round of community benefit funding is now open and that applies to anyone on the Nome power grid.

The funds are available to residents who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and have not received funding from the City of Nome during previous community relief funds. Individual households can apply for a $300 grant towards utility costs while businesses and non-profits qualify for a $3,000 utility grant. Sculptors and artisans are eligible for a $300 assistance grant even if they have received aid in previous rounds.

City leaders doubt that this round of community benefits will use all of the allotted funding. Councilmember Mark Johnson is particularly interested in creating an economic development position for the city using some of the CARES Act funding.

“In addition to rebounding from this pandemic, we also have a port that’s coming. An economic development person wouldn’t just focus on businesses, they also focus on housing and other economic development for the whole community.”

– Mark Johnson

The Arctic Deep Draft Port Expansion project Johnson alludes to has not made its way fully through Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C yet. It is part of the 2020 WRDA Bill that still needs to be passed through the Senate and approved by the President.

Johnson worries that the city may have to give back unused funds. He sees the CARES Act money as a good way to “jump start” something that could have lasting impacts in Nome.

CARES Act funding does not allow for a blanket stimulus to go out to every household. But Councilmember Johnson did suggest a type of stimulus where the head of household would get $200 for every member in the house, which could be used on household supplies. The council is also discussing rent credits.

Meanwhile, Nome continues to move forward with their plans to build housing for teachers and law enforcement officers. The council approved the purchase for a Bronson property near 3rd Avenue and Steadman for $200,000, which will create a bigger lot for an 18-unit apartment building. The total project costs $6,000,000 and Mayor John Handeland hopes that will be paid for mostly with a bond.

“So [we’re] looking to have a revenue bond of that would be paid by rents of about $5-million.”

– John Handeland

Nome resident Donald Johnson suggested that the city buy his property on Lomen Avenue instead and use those seven apartments. The council expressed interest in potentially using the property for Nome’s many housing needs but will continue on with its efforts to build teacher housing at the selected East 3rd and Steadman location. 

The council also reviewed a quarterly budget report to learn that sales tax revenue is down overall in July and August, partly due to the seasonal sales tax reduction passed by the council earlier this year. Manager Steckman explains that some industries like grocery stores, alcohol vendors, and internet sales are doing better than others.

“Which is helping to offset some of the losses in the restaurants. But business is down overall in the economy. That’s why when you’re taking a snapshot here and there some looks good and some looks bad.”

– Glenn Steckman

The lodging and construction industries in Nome are down across the board.

Steckman is hopeful that road repair projects that were pushed back, and infrastructure updates like the ramp repair at the port, will boost those numbers for next year.

Earlier this year, the Nome Common Council heard fierce criticism about their local quarantine and travel requirements from business owners and other members of the public. But on Monday, they heard a bit of thanks from Nome Elementary School Principal Elizabeth Korenek-Johnson.

“We know that our schools are not open [due] to luck. We know that it’s hard work and we know that it’s our community coming together. We know that it’s challenging and wearing on a lot of us. We know that the travel related quarantine mandates are exhausting and inconvenient but it’s working.”

– Elizabeth Korenek-Johnson

Both Lance Johnson of Norton Sound Health Corporation’s Behavioral Health Services and Rhonda Schneider of Nome Community Center thanked the Council during citizens’s comments as well. They both agreed that the city’s decision to allow both the Day Shelter and N.E.S.T. (Nome Emergency Shelter Team) to use the Mini Convention Center has been crucial to the health and safety of the unsheltered community.

Nome has not yet seen any reported cases of COVID-19 in those shelters. Schneider also urged the council to reconsider the way they view unsheltered people. She says that people without homes are often in the situation due to poverty, mental illness, and a lack of affordable housing.

The council finished Monday night by meeting in executive session to discuss personnel issues within the Nome police department. After some recent resignations, and promotions, the department currently has three vacant patrol officer positions.

The Nome City Council announced they would take no action on those matters after their meeting ended.

Image at top: Members of the Nome Common Council in October, 2020. From left to right: Councilmember Adam Martinson, Mayor John Handeland, Councilmember Mark Johnson, and Councilmember Jerald Brown.

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