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NJUS Budget Passes with Little Change to Rates, Council Hears Iron Dog COVID Plans

A close-up view of a utility meter on the side of a Nome building.
Utility meter in Nome. Photo: Matthew Smith, KNOM.

The Nome Common Council approved the operations and capital budgets for the Nome Joint Utility System during their regular meeting on Monday.

The budget has been in effect since the start of the new year. NJUS Assistant Manager Ken Morton told KNOM that operations should look pretty steady for Nome utility customers, for now.

“I don’t believe that consumers are going to be seeing noticeable changes in their bills or operation of their utilities for the near future.”

-NJUS Assistant Manager Ken Morton

But the plan passed by the City Council does include a study on utility rates to take place later this spring.

“It’s premature to talk about the results of the study that has not started yet. But the expectation is that in the middle of spring, we will take a look at our rate structure. And yes, it’s reasonable to estimate that rates will increase, but how much? We really haven’t done any analysis on it yet.” 

– NJUS Assistant Manager, Ken Morton

The NJUS 2021 Operations budget was passed at just over $11 million dollars with the organization’s projected revenue of over $12 million. NJUS projects most of that surplus to be used on capital projects like updates to the tank farm and upgrading their electric meter reading system.

That system will expire by June and right now Morton says NJUS is currently planning to need a lineman to go out to over 1600 residences and manually read meters. Morton says they hope to replace their existing digital system with a new one but that would depend on various software updates.

The rest of the council’s agenda was slim. City Manager Glenn Steckman reaffirmed that the 2021 Iron Dog will be coming through Nome next week but with tight COVID-19 safety precautions. The racers will regularly take rapid COVID-19 tests, including upon arrival into Nome, and there will be very limited race support staff. 

“There will be no banquet; they have very strict guidelines which have been reviewed with the city. People will not be able to go into the garages to interact with the racers, nor will the mechanics leave… to maintain a very tight bubble over the event.”

– City Manager Glenn Steckman

Finally, Steckman reiterated that the current COVID-19 quarantine guidelines remain in place for the City of Nome. Individuals who have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine do not need to quarantine provided they receive a negative rapid test upon arrival into Nome. Non-vaccinated individuals can continue to do a seven-day quarantine with negative rapid tests upon arrival and Day 8 or they can quarantine for 14 days with no testing at all. 

Nome Mayor John Handeland ended the meeting by expressing his condolences for the family of longtime Nome resident Juan Brizuela, who recently died of COVID-19 in Mexico. 

“We are sad to learn that Juan Brizuela passed away of COVID within the last week or so. He was actually in Mexico. But for those that say they don’t know somebody that has either had it or died of it, there’s a name you can tie yourselves to. We pass our condolences on to Lena [Brizuela] and the entire family.”

-Mayor John Handeland

The Council moved their budget amendments to be read during the next meeting and ended with an executive session to discuss contract negotiations.

Image at Top: Utility meter in Nome. Photo: Matthew Smith, KNOM file.

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