Bethel City Council Considers Extending City's COVID-19 Emergency Powers, Rejects Rewriting Cab Laws

May 13, 2020

Bethel City Council introduced an ordinance to extend the city's COVID-19 emergency declaration, shot down a permanent rewrite of cab laws, gave $60,000 to Bethel Winter House, and discussed subdivisions.
Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

Bethel's taxi cab system was a big issue in the May 12 city council meeting. The council introduced an ordinance that would allow the city manager to extend the COVID-19 cab fare structure, but rejected a proposal to permanently move to a meter system. 

Before the cab discussion though, the council made it official: Bethel Winter House will be open through summer. 

Council member Hugh Dyment acknowledged concerns about housing a large number of people in one area during the COVID-19 pandemic, but with the shelter providing people masks and access to a bathroom, he said that the public health benefits outweigh the risks. 

“What we're also doing is helping protect the general public, who aren't using the shelter,” Dyment said.

He said that ensuring there is a place for housing-insecure people to wash their hands would help protect the whole town from disease spread. 

The Bethel City Council also introduced an ordinance that will extend Bethel’s COVID-19 emergency declaration for 90 days. The emergency declaration provides the city manager and council flexibility to suspend or modify the Bethel Municipal Code. Using that flexibility, the previous Acting City Manager, Bill Howell, changed the city’s cab fare structure, and current City Manager Vincenzo "Vinny" Corazza gifted $15,000 to the Bethel Winter House. Both times, the city manager was allowed to act without council approval. 

Council member Alyssa Leary asked if extending the emergency declaration would also extend the COVID-19 cab fare structure that charges riders a $5 base cost plus $1 per minute. City Attorney Libby Bakalar said that the emergency declaration does give the city manager the power to decide that.

“That emergency gives a lot of broad authority to the city manager to do what's needed in the public health interest, and if that means tinkering with rates and availability of cabs because of COVID, then he's authorized to do that,” Bakalar said.

Later in the meeting, the council shot down Corazza's proposal to permanently change Bethel’s cab laws and require cabs to install meters that took into account distance traveled. No council member would second the motion to introduce the ordinance, so it died before a vote.

The city council also directed the city administration to resume maintenance on the road to Haroldson Subdivision. Several residents of that subdivision had recently complained to the city that emergency services, like police, are unable to reach the subdivision because of unmaintained roads. 

The city also cleared the way for work on another subdivision. Council members voted to approve the zoning designation in Blue Sky Subdivision. Seventy-five lots will be residential, and three lots can be used by businesses. Planning Director Ted Meyer said that Blue Sky developers expect to start platting the land by July 15.

In her monthly Director’s Report, Acting Police Chief Amy Davis shared some startlingly low numbers with the city council. In April, the police department received 951 calls compared to 1632 in April 2019. Calls for intoxicated pedestrians were down even more dramatically. Last month there were 123 calls, compared to 532 in April the year before. In an interview last week, Davis said that she suspects both the COVID-19 pandemic and instituting local option alcohol restrictions were big factors affecting these numbers.