Ryanna Thurman uses a holds locker at the Soldotna Public Library on Friday, Jan. 15 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Ryanna Thurman uses a holds locker at the Soldotna Public Library on Friday, Jan. 15 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna departments reflect on COVID response

Library, parks and rec, emergency services and IT gave feedback on 2020 performance.

Ten different departments and offices within the City of Soldotna contributed memos to a 2020 “year-in-review” package submitted by Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen to the mayor and to the city council.

In the memos, department heads reflect on what their department accomplished in 2020, including how they responded to the COVID pandemic.

“Our department heads delivered on our promise to maintain important municipal services, while keeping our employees and the public safe,” wrote Queen in an introductory memo to the council. “And in moments where we had time to catch our breath, our team found ways to innovate and thrive.”

The Soldotna Public Library, for example, added 961 new patrons, saw more than 90,000 checkouts and implemented new technology as part of its COVID mitigation strategy, such as its self-checkout mobile app, contact-free curbside services and the installation of a holds locker.

The Parks and Recreation Department concentrated some of its efforts to help people get out of the house. In his memo, Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael highlighted the expansion of trail maintenance into Swiftwater and West Redoubt and the creation of extra ice skating opportunities at ARC Lake. At ARC Lake, Soldotna Parks and Recreation staff created a third skating rink area, purchased portable lights to use in the area from 4:30 to 10 p.m. and hosted “family skate” events on Saturdays in December and January, which he said averaged over 250 attendees.

“As a department we were supported by administration to continue providing services to the community any way we could and ultimately did,” Carmichael wrote. “Projects proceeded as did maintenance and we had a good summer despite restrictions of interstate travel.”

Soldotna Police Chief Peter Mlynarik reported that overall calls for service were down by about 1,000 due to COVID, but that the department saw an increase in the number of drivers taken off the street due to driving under the influence. Mlynarik also said that the department took extensive measures to prevent staff from contracting or transmitting COVID-19, such as having officers work 12-hour shifts to keep the same groups of people together. Mlynarik said that, in 2020, no officers were diagnosed with COVID due to contact at work and no staff were diagnosed from exposure to other staff.

The city’s IT department, like many others in 2020, was forced to migrate city operations to a digital platform. According to IT Manager Brice Cunningham’s memo, the city saw the implementation of enhanced video conferencing and SMS notification solutions, which directly improved the ability of city employees to work remotely.

Finance Director Melanie Imholte spoke to her department’s role in reporting the city’s CARES Act expenditures. In addition to participating in meetings to determine the eligibility of expenditures, Imholte said they coordinated with other departments on grant programs, issued checks to grant recipients and processed grant applications. The City of Soldotna received a clean FY 2020 audit, which included about half of the year’s worth of CARES Act expenditures.

“Our ability to continuously provide this high level of service each year, is always our biggest accomplishment,” Imholte wrote. “I am proud, that even in the midst of a pandemic, 2020 was no exception to this.”

The 55-page compilation of memos can be viewed in their entirety on the City of Soldotna’s website at soldotna.org.

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

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