Wrangell assembly extends emergency declaration

The Wrangell Borough Assembly unanimously voted Tuesday evening to extend the borough's COVID-19 emergency declaration through March to ensure the community remains eligible for any financial assistance. The assembly also voted to extend its resolution allowing the suspension of in-person assembly meetings until it can make accommodations for social distancing.

The assembly declaration retroactively extends through March an emergency ordinance that had expired Dec. 31, which was a continuation of a similar emergency declaration of last March that expired in October.

"In order to ensure the CBW (City and Borough of Wrangell) is able to qualify for all federal and state disaster resources; because COVID-19 remains a threat to the community; and because the pandemic has entered a new phase with the distribution of vaccines, (the) Administration is requesting extension of the emergency declaration through March 31, 2021," said the backup material for Tuesday's assembly meeting.

Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen said the declaration is largely to ensure Wrangell remains eligible for any potential funding.

If an opportunity for money to respond to the pandemic comes up and requires the community to have an emergency declaration, the manager said the administration wants to have one in place just in case.

The latest declaration extension would have no impact on business operations in town, Von Bargen said at the assembly meeting.

The intent is to make sure the community can capture the maximum potential funding that may be available in the future, she said. Mayor Steve Prysunka shared Von Bargen's viewpoint, adding his concern that Wrangell could potentially miss out on money if it did not have a declaration in place.

The latest disaster ordinance keeps all but one of the original provisions in place, according to the supporting material presented to the assembly. A provision granting the mayor and borough manager the authority to enact emergency orders was removed. In its place is a new provision that gives the borough manager the authority to enact borough-only policies "to protect operational integrity and/or employee and customer health and safety."

The proposed extension was not popular among some community members who spoke at Tuesday's meeting.

Mike Lockabey and Don McConachie both said they saw no reason for the emergency declaration to continue. Wrangell has handled the pandemic comparatively well, they said, and letting the emergency declaration expire would be an important first step back to normalcy.

Assembly Member David Powell said he could not see any way that the extension would hurt the community. He also said a lot of concerns among the public could be avoided if people remembered they are free to reach out to the city if they have questions or want clarification on something the assembly was considering. Other assembly members concurred.

The assembly also approved of an extension of a resolution allowing for the suspension of in-person assembly meetings during the pandemic. The assembly has been meeting via Zoom while in-person sessions have been suspended.

It was originally planned to let the suspension expire at the end of December, so staff could purchase and test equipment for in-person meetings at the Nolan Center, which would provide adequate space to safely meet in one room.

However, according to the agenda packet, the Nolan Center will be undergoing flooring renovations through January and possibly into February. Borough Clerk Kim Lane said the city would like more time to make sure the equipment they were purchasing would be ready to go.

"We're not quite ready to move to the Nolan Center for in-person meetings," she said.


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