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Bethel City Council To Consider Budget Amendments

Christine Trudeau/KYUK

During their Sept. 28 meeting, the Bethel City Council will consider appropriating city funds for a school officer position, the fitness center, and a grant awardee.


Bethel City Council is expected to vote on a budget ordinance tonight, but that ordinance houses two pretty different items. One item would add a new police officer position to the high school. The other would send more city funds to the Yukon Kuskokwim Fitness Center for emergency repairs.  


The City of Bethel must add a police officer position to the Bethel Regional High School to become eligible for a grant with the U.S. Department of Justice to help fund its police force. Bethel Police Chief Richard Simmons has already chosen the officer and stationed him in the school. His name is Chris Wigner, and he’s been with the Bethel Police Department for about five years, Simmons said that the officer is making friends. 


The Bethel Police Department has faced uncertainty during the last couple weeks after the city announced a mandate requiring all employees, including police officers, to be vaccinated against COVID-19. When the city announced the mandate, KYUK reported that nearly half the Bethel police force was unvaccinated and could face firing when the mandate went into effect. At the time, Simmons said that he wasn’t sure if his department would be able to spare an officer for the school if he was going to lose so many to the mandate. 


Now, one day after the mandate has gone into effect, most previously unvaccinated officers have been able to keep their jobs after getting the vaccine. Only two officers remain unvaccinated, and one has received a religious exemption. The other is facing getting fired. That means the Bethel Police Department is still nearly fully staffed.


Also wrapped into the same budget ordinance as the school officer position are funds for emergency repairs at the Yukon Kuskokwim Fitness Center. If approved, the budget ordinance would set aside an additional $701,612 for the fitness center. The budget ordinance allocates $122,082 for the police officer position, although that position is expected to be funded by a grant from the Justice Department and the Lower Kuskokwim School District. 


Also at their Sept. 28 meeting, the council will also consider a recommendation from the city's Community Action Grant Committee to award a $25,000 grant to Bethel Community Services Foundation. The foundation applied for the grant to cover their initial efforts of adding 20 housing units to the Bethel Winter House.