Kenai City Hall on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai City Hall on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Responding to a crisis

Local city councils take steps to address COVID-19

As Gov. Mike Dunleavy works to gradually reopen Alaska’s economy, cities around the Kenai Peninsula are taking different steps to handle the novel coronavirus outbreak. Some are adopting more stringent measures beyond what the state has implemented, and some are asking that Dunleavy roll back certain mandates that affect local businesses.

The city councils of Kenai, Soldotna, Homer and Seward have either already passed or plan to vote on several measures to address issues of public health and economic impacts surrounding COVID-19. Each of these cities has residents that have confirmed positive for the disease, as do the unincorporated communities of Sterling and Anchor Point. There are 19 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 for Kenai Peninsula residents as of April 18, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Here’s a look at the actions city councils have taken to respond to the virus.

Kenai

March 16: City employees are issued two weeks of temporary leave to encourage staying home when sick.

March 18: The city declares a state of emergency.

March 24: The city council votes to give City Manager Paul Ostrander emergency powers as long as the emergency declaration is in place.

March 26: The city suspends shutoffs for missed water and sewer utility payments.

March 28: Thirty-two city employees were directed not to return to work in response to Health Mandate 11, which directed all Alaskans to work from home as much as possible and closed nonessential businesses. Ostrander told the city council on April 1 that “most” of those employees were working from home, and all employees were given an additional two weeks of paid leave provided under federal mandate.

April 15: The city council voted to adopt resolution 2020-19, asking the governor to rescind or modify Health Mandates 3, 9 and 12 while recognizing the efforts made by the state to slow the rate of infection. The mandates referenced in the resolution forced the closure of restaurants, bars, entertainment and personal care services and limited public gatherings and intrastate travel.

Resolution 2020-19 was introduced by council member Robert Peterkin, who also introduced an amendment to the resolution so that copies would be sent to the governor as well as Kenai Peninsula legislators upon its adoption. Vice Mayor Bob Molloy introduced an amendment adding a clause that recognizes the governor’s current efforts, which was also adopted. Council member Tim Navarre moved to amend the resolution to include the reopening of schools and also state that decisions made regarding reopening the economy should be “based on science, not politics.” Peterkin objected to Navarre’s amendment by saying he thinks the resolution should prioritize revitalizing the economy and so the language should be specific to that issue.

“I was very specific when I wrote this, and I have support on it, and it’s just to get people back to work in our town,” Peterkin said. “That’s what I’m after, and putting all this other stuff in isn’t going to help it and it’s not going to make it effective.”

The resolution was adopted and included versions of the amendments introduced by Peterkin, Molloy and Navarre.

The council also adopted Resolution 2020-20, which supports federal legislation H.R. 6467 in the U.S. House of Representatives. This bill is a Coronavirus Relief Act that would provide $250 billion in additional relief efforts to local governments with a population of 500,000 or less.

The next regular Kenai City Council meeting is scheduled for May 6. The city of Kenai has four residents who have been confirmed positive for COVID-19 as of April 18.

Soldotna

March 19: City manager Stephanie Queen is granted emergency powers by the Soldotna City Council during a special emergency meeting.

March 20: The city declares a state of emergency.

March 31: The city suspends shutoffs for missed water and sewer utility payments.

April 8: The city council holds a regular meeting, but no COVID-19 related actions are taken.

At the upcoming city council meeting on April 22, two items will be introduced to address the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ordinance 2020-009 would authorize a temporary discounted rate of 50% the normal rate for water and sewer bills for the months of May and June. These rates will be known as “COVID-19 Hardship Rates,” and residents of Soldotna will be able to apply for and request this rate if they are experiencing hardships due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The list of qualifying hardship circumstances shall be determined by the city manager, according to the language of the ordinance.

Action Memorandum 2020-006 would repurpose the Storefront Improvement Funds previously allocated by the city to provide financial assistance to Soldotna small businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19. About $15,000 worth of unencumbered funds remain in the Storefront Improvement account, and the memorandum would allow the funds to be used by businesses to improve their online presence and “expand their ability to reach customers now and through the economic recovery period.”

Currently, the funds are available through city matching grants of $7,500 each. If the memorandum is adopted, the funds would be distributed in amounts of $1,000 to up to 15 businesses.

There are six Soldotna residents that have tested positive for COVID-19.

Seward

March 17: The city issues a Public Health Emergency Declaration.

March 23: The Seward City Council ratifies the emergency declaration issued on March 17 and adopts the temporary emergency operation rules and procedures laid out in Resolution 2020-025.

April 15: The city council strikes an amendment to the city’s emergency operations rules and procedures which would have required Seward residents to wear cloth masks in public. The city still strongly recommends wearing cloth masks when in public.

The next Seward City Council meeting is scheduled for April 27. Three Seward residents that have tested positive for COVID-19.

Homer

March 18: The City of Homer issues an Emergency Disaster Declaration.

March 23: The Homer City Council ratifies the emergency declaration, extends it for 90 days and adopts several emergency ordinances related to COVID-19.

Emergency ordinance 20-15 suspends all City of Homer advisory committee and board meetings for 60 days or until the emergency declaration is lifted.

Emergency ordinance 20-16, adopted unanimously, amends the city’s 2020 budget to appropriate $50,000 from the city’s General Fund for the purpose of COVID-19 preparation and response.

Emergency ordinance 20-17, also adopted unanimously, allows for telephonic or virtual participation in city council meetings in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Emergency ordinance 20-18, adopted unanimously, temporarily suspends the city’s ban on single-use plastic carryout bags until the state of emergency is lifted.

April 13: The Homer City council adopts Resolution 20-037, which provides increased time on certain payments during the COVID-19 emergency.

Ordinance 20-14 is also adopted, which retroactively changes the effective date of the plastic bag ban from Feb. 14 to Sept. 15, 2020.

The next Homer City Council meeting is scheduled for April 27. Homer has two residents that have tested positive for COVID-19.

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