The Sitka Assembly has extended an emergency declaration to the end of November, in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
In an emergency meeting on Monday (3-16-20), the assembly extended the initial emergency local disaster declaration made by City Administrator John Leach on Sunday — which would have been in effect for only seven days.
Setting the end date as November 24, seems like a stretch, but Leach explained that it wasn’t arbitrary: The date was picked so the city can continue to apply for federal disaster relief without interruption up to Thanksgiving, before the congressional recess. That’s eight months away, which didn’t sit well with assembly member Richard Wein, who made a motion to amend the declaration to 60 days, and then revisit the situation..
“Because this is a changing situation, I don’t think there’s any undue burden to bring this back to the table in 60 days to talk about where we are and where we’re going. I don’t like these overly long declarations which would potentially change,” he said.
The motion failed 2-5 with assembly members Wein and Valorie Nelson voting in favor. But the motion to support the emergency declaration and extend to November 24 passed unanimously . The local declaration will end earlier if the state or federal government emergency declarations are lifted.
Administrator Leach also requested $500,000 in emergency funding for this year, to pay for additional personnel, supplies, and services to aid the city’s response to the virus. Member Steven Eisenbeisz directed Leach to spend the funds carefully.
“We will need some extra money here, but I also fear that state and federal relief funding may be hard to come by,” he said. “So I would encourage an extremely penny-tight approach to this while still getting the job done, because I think this is going to deplete a fund that we will have to build back up ourselves.”
Leach said city hall would look for state and federal funding first before they used the money from the city’s emergency reserve fund, which has a balance of $2 million. The motion passed 6-1 with Nelson opposed.
During public comment, Charles Hart, of Sitka Cirque, said he and other local business owners were concerned that the impacts of social distancing and potential quarantines could have lasting effects on their businesses.
“Having a $2-million-dollar emergency fund is great. I think the city should be prepared to consider some of that going toward citizens that are struggling,” he said. “Buying supplies is important, and I can see some of the money going towards that but I think the city should be strongly considering both the short-term and long term-effects this is going to have on people who are already hit the hardest in the community.”
And there was also concern about how closed down city buildings would affect Sitka’s most vulnerable. Gayle Young, of the Sitka Homeless Coalition voiced her concern.
“It was brought to my attention today that all of the public restrooms in the downtown area are locked and closed now, she said. “I just wondered if you want to make a little different plan? There are some people who rely on public restrooms daily and right now there doesn’t seem to be an option,” she said.
Tuesday, the city issued a release on its website and facebook page, listing the harbor restrooms that remain open to the public.
(UPDATED 3-17-20, 9:00 p.m.): On Tuesday afternoon, a person in Ketchikan tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus. This is the first confirmed case in Southeast Alaska. There are now 6 confirmed cases in the state.