The sign outside Soldotna City Hall is seen here on July 16, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

The sign outside Soldotna City Hall is seen here on July 16, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai, Soldotna extend disaster declarations

Soldotna extended their declaration to March 31, while Kenai extended theirs to Jan. 31

The Kenai and Soldotna city councils voted Wednesday to extend their respective COVID-19 disaster declarations, which allow city administration more flexibility in how they respond to the pandemic.

The Soldotna City Council unanimously voted to extend their declaration until March 31. Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen said during the meeting that not extending the declaration would make it harder for the city to respond quickly to new developments related to COVID-19 and could potentially make Soldotna ineligible to receive federal funds if they become available after the statewide disaster declaration expires.

“We would be slightly less nimble in responding as a staff,” Queen said of not extending the declaration, mostly because city action would have to align with city council meetings.

According to a memo from Queen to the council, the city is planning for “significant administrative work” related to COVID-19 to carry into 2021, especially with regards to closing out grants. The declaration also gives executive authority to Queen, which the memo says “has been rarely invoked.” Instances where the authority was invoked include the hiring of a CARES Act grant coordinator, relaxing late payment and shut-off protocols for water and sewer utility customers and offering employees supplemental leave to comply with more stipulations return-to-work policies if they contract or start showing symptoms of COVID-19, among others.

On the same night in Kenai, the Kenai City Council considered a similar resolution to extend. The resolution as originally presented would have also extended the city’s disaster declaration to March 31. Council member Jim Glendening offered an amendment, which was adopted, to change the date from March 31 to Jan. 31.

Doing so, Glendening said, would allow the council to reevaluate the declaration after seeing more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine and after the expiration of federal CARES Act dollars, which must be spent by Dec. 30.

“I think just having a fresh look at the second meeting in January will allow us to have a more informed discussion about COVID and where we sit with money, how we’re going to apply relief money, if there’s any available, for the citizens of our community and how we’re going to manage the restoration of normalcy regarding city operations and actually how we encourage our businesses and other events to progress,” Glendening said.

Council member Teea Winger said she would also support moving the date back to Jan. 31 to ensure the council would have a formal discussion on the declaration each month.

“We can extend it next month; I’m not opposed to extending,” Winger said. “I just want to have those discussions as things are changing and things are evolving over the next few months.”

Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said the length of the extension ultimately comes down to administrative convenience. Extending the declaration for one month means that if the council is interested in extending it again, an extension will have to be formally presented to them at a meeting every month. Ostrander said he didn’t see a scenario in which the declaration would not be extended through March.

“It really doesn’t matter either way the council goes,” Ostrander said. “We’re going to have an emergency declaration in place until March 31 anyways unless something dramatically changes in our world.”

Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel was the only person to vote in opposition to moving the expiration date back to Jan. 31. The resolution as amended was approved unanimously.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough voted unanimously to extend the borough’s COVID-19 disaster declaration to March 31 during a special meeting earlier this week.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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