Tuesday was Edna DeVries’ last city council meeting and it was mostly upbeat with the city’s finances in good shape and Palmer’s small businesses reporting increased sales and confidence.
Devries is to be sworn in as new mayor at the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Nov. 16 and starts work there Nov. 22. “It’s been a privilege to be Palmer’s mayor the last five years. I appreciate the support of the council and the city’s staff, and I am looking forward t what we can accomplish at the borough,” DeVries said.
“Don’t forget Palmer,” city manager John Moosey said.
The only downbeat notes came toward the end of the meeting during audience participation when old disputes between members flared anew over allegations of past conversations among council members on city business done in private conversations in possible violations of open meetings laws.
Some members of the public, animated over the issue, pressed for resignations from the council, but discussion was deferred until a future meeting. No actions were taken.
Otherwise, council members ticked though routine items of business. A contract for a new city attorney, Sarah Heath, is scheduled for the next council meeting. Current city attorney Mike Gatti said he was reducing his workload after representing Palmer for 15 years.
In his remarks to the council city manager John Moosey said Palmer officials are working on a list of projects, including utility improvements, they hope to see funded with incoming federal infrastructure money and will coordinating with the Mat-Su Borough, which is putting together its own list.
Moosey also said the city was monitoring federal implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for employers with more than 100 employed. Palmer has less than 100 currently but city officials will also watch how federal funds going to the city might have vaccination rules.
“We don’t want to get ourselves in trouble,” Moosey said. The University of Alaska is now seeing the rules applied to federal research grants to the university.
He also said the city has received 1,000 COVID-19 test kits which will be available to the public at Palmer’s library and at no cost. The kits, which give results quickly and in private, were paid for by a grant through Connect MatSu, he said.
Other positive news was that Palmer Chamber of Commerce director Ailis Vann told the council in a report that the chamber’s annual survey of its members show increased confidence in the local economy.
“Fifty five percent of members who responded said they are on track to exceed (pre-pandemic) 2019,” in sales, and 56 percent reported they are now confident they will survive the pandemic, Vann told the council.
Five new businesses have opened in the city and have become chamber members, she said. Palmer’s chamber now has over 300 members.
Special chamber events are also selling well as the community emerges from the pandemic.
However, labor shortages are still a prime concern for local businesses. “We see some who have to close one or two days a week because of the difficulty to get help,” she said.
The chamber is now busy organizing the “Small Business Saturday” event for the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and “Hometown Holidays,” for the Christmas season, Vann said.
In a report for Matanuska Electric Association external affairs manager Julie Estey said MEA is now planning for the closure and relocation of the Lucas electric substation near the “Welcome to Palmer” sign on the highway entry to the city.
MEA is close to agreement with Granite Construction to use part of the company’s property for a new substation. Estey said MEA will begin the permitting and design work, and he ordering of long lead-time equipment in 2022. Construction is planned for 2024.
Meanwhile, MEA is open to ideas from the community on what can be done with the property where the current substation is located.
“I’m putting in my pitch for a southern Bar-B-Que place,” Moosey, the city manager, quipped.