The Soldotna City Council unanimously voted to repeal the city’s disaster emergency declaration ordinance during its meeting on Wednesday, sending it to public hearing on June 9. The motion passed 5-0.
The repeal was introduced by Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney. The disaster declaration was enacted on March 19, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council has voted to extend it on five additional occasions after it was initially enacted: last year on June 10, July 22, Oct. 14 and Dec. 31, and once more this year on March 24.
According to the official repeal ordinance 2021-011, the definition of the emergency declaration “means the condition declared by the principal executive officer of a political subdivision to designate the imminence or occurrence of a disaster.”
In an email Whitney sent to the council last week, he requested the members’ support in enacting the repeal.
“I believe the time has come to end the Citywide Disaster Emergency Declaration and return to some semblance of normalcy in our daily lives,” Whitney wrote. “The State of Alaska and many other communities within the State have ended their Disaster Emergency Declarations and I believe this is the time for Soldotna to do the same.”
If this emergency declaration is repealed on June 9, the utility ordinance 2021-012 — the temporary halt on water and sewer shutoffs due to the city’s emergency declaration during the COVID-19 pandemic — will also be affected.
The utility ordinance provided Soldotna residents some utility relief, not shutting off water or sewer if they were unable to pay it during the pandemic. That relief is set to expire once the disaster emergency declaration does. Soldotna residents with outstanding unpaid water and sewer bills will have 60 days to enter into a formal repayment plan with the city, which may not exceed two years.
The council originally voted to provide temporary utility relief on March 24, 2020, then passed by the Legislature on March 29, 2020 and signed into law by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on April 10, 2020. Last week Melanie Imholte, the Soldotna city finance director, sent an email to the mayor and city council regarding the moratorium on utility relief.
“The City’s disaster declaration is set to expire on June 9, 2021 at which time the City code requiring penalties to accrue on past due balances will apply,” the message said.
According to the email, there are currently around 25 utility customers that are more than three months past due on water and sewer bills.
Reach reporter Camille Botello at email@example.com.