At the same time that the Sitka Assembly is trying to budget for next year, it’s also trying to ease the financial pain of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
At its Thursday (4/9/20) night budget meeting the assembly spent less time on the actual budget, and more time discussing what measures they could take to reduce the burden on Sitka residents affected by COVID-19.
Assembly member Valorie Nelson proposed delaying the property tax appeal deadline to June 15th. That unanimously passed. Nelson also proposed pushing the filing date for city sales tax returns to June 30th, and waiving penalties, fees, and late payments.
Asked about the impact of the proposal, the head of Sitka’s Finance Department, Jay Sweeney, said postponing sales tax filings would make it hard to track exactly how the local economy was faring.
“If we delay the reporting, then we won’t be able to give the type of estimates the assembly was asking for on a week-to-week basis for what is the affect of the economic slow-down on the municipality,” he said. “Without the returns being filed, we won’t have the ability to provide that information, so that’s a drawback to be considered.”
The sales tax extension passed 5-2 with members Eisenbeisz and Mosher opposed.
During public comment on the COVID-19 relief discussion, municipal clerk Sara Peterson read a submission from Mike Finn. Finn said that the assembly should do even more, by removing water, sewer and trash charges from the utilities bill for Sitka businesses that were required to close. He said that the COVID-19 relief bill covered payroll, but not many other expenses.
“Businesses are already losing profits and will struggle to get through the winter months with minimal or no summer season,” he wrote.
Nelson said she wanted to do more.
“If there are businesses that are truly, truly fumbling or on the brink of failure, for crying out loud, we virtually gave half-a-million dollars to Baranof Island Brewing Company,” she said. “We have got to figure out a way that we can help these people if there’s a chance they can reopen after all this craziness is gone.”
Member Thor Christianson said he’d be willing to draft and cosponsor more legislation down the line, what he said could be, essentially, a Sitka version of the CARES Act. And member Kevin Mosher suggested an ordinance that allows a sales tax free weekend once a month.
The assembly will consider the two extensions for sales and property tax as emergency ordinances at its meeting on Tuesday (4/14/20). At that meeting, the assembly will also consider delaying the seasonal utility rate hike to July 1. And the assembly will consider an extension of the “hunker down” ordinance, and a mandate to require all essential employees arriving in Sitka to quarantine for 14 days, and for their employers to submit safety plans to the city.