Bethel City Council Opposes Gov. Dunleavy's Budget, Debates Road Conditions

Mar 27, 2019

Credit City of Bethel

The Bethel City Council adopted a resolution opposing Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed state budget at its Tuesday meeting.

“It’s basically a direct impact and indirect on the City of Bethel, our losses directly and our indirect losses such as lost sales taxes, lost jobs,” said Mayor Fred Watson, who sponsored the resolution.

The city action follows a town hall meeting held last week where local non-profit leaders testified against the budget cuts. Those leaders included heads of Bethel's ONC and the Association of Village Council Presidents, which have both issued resolutions opposing the governor’s budget.

Warming weather is pushing the council to shift around the city’s funding. While it has reduced heating costs, the warm winter has required the city to spend more time fixing its perpetually potholed roads. The council approved moving $84,504 intended for heating fuel to instead pay for overtime for water and sewer drivers and vehicle parts.

Vice Mayor Raymond “Thor” Williams berated City Manager Pete Williams for the destroyed state of Bethel’s roads.

“So if I go and tell the public right now that Pete Williams is okay with the road conditions the way it is, because we can’t do anything, that’s the comment that I have to give to the public?" Vice mayor Williams prodded.

“I am not okay with the roads," City Manager Williams responded. "But we do not have a magic wand to fix them. We do not have the materials to fix them. This is not a city of Bethel issue; this is a statewide issue.”

Council member Leif Albertson countered the vice mayor, first saying that he saw the grader go by his house in the morning and a couple hours later saw how much the roads had deteriorated.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the city manager or city workers to control the weather or control melting permafrost and those kinds of things,” Albertson said.

The council member encouraged the city to continue communicating with the public about road conditions like it has through recent Facebook posts. City Manager Williams does not see those conditions changing.

“I couldn’t guarantee that if you put 8 inches of gravel on every road in town that it wouldn’t be better than what you have out there today,” he told the council.

Williams says that he’s not willing to make people work 24/7 maintaining the streets when they are already working overtime. Plus, only one grader is operational.

Also at the meeting, council postponed an ordinance that would require new homes built after April 30, 2019 to have minimum-sized water tanks. Under the proposal, one-bedroom homes would require a 600 gallon tank, a two-bedroom an 800 gallon tank, a three-bedroom a 1,000 gallon tank, and a four-bedroom a 1,200 gallon tank. The council will take up the matter again at its next meeting.

The city council awarded Community Action Grants totaling $37,991.96 to five local organizations. The funding comes from the city’s alcohol sales tax revenue. The grants are intended for applicants that “contribute to the health, welfare, and overall quality of life” for Bethel residents. This quarter’s grantees are the Bethel Winter House, Camp Hope, the Gladys Jung Elementary Wrestling Program, Bethel Search and Rescue, and the Bethel Community Services Foundation Health Through Music and Dance Program.

Also, the city council approved a 3 percent raise for City Clerk Lori Strickler and heartily praised her work.

Lastly, Vice Mayor Thor Williams announced that transactions at the Cama-i Dance Festival will be subject to city sales tax since the event organizers did not apply for an exemption.