PALMER — The Palmer City Council discussed final budget amendments for 2019, economic impacts of Chamber of Commerce events, a Request for Proposals for annexation strategy and struggled to schedule their strategic planning meeting.
“This is not annexation. This is annexation strategy planning and economic development analysis so that we understand the playing field and come up with a plan,” said City Manager Nathan Wallace. “For the folks out there that are worried about annexation, you’ll have your opportunity to give input early as opposed to here’s what we’re annexing, so don’t panic.”
Wallace said that the RFP for annexation strategy will close on March 6 and the contract should come before the council by early April. Wallace said that the RFP allows for up to nine public meetings to allow for adequate input from members of the public on what size Palmer needs to be moving into the future.
Ordinance 20-001 passed unanimously, amending language relating to itinerant vendors and defining who would consider organizing an event. The ordinance was reviewed by the Board of Economic Development and the Planning and Zoning Commission and allows for special event organizers as opposed to previously where specific organizations were listed within code.
“It was a hindrance to a lot of people,” said Palmer Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ailis Vann. “They are very relieved and grateful.”
Ordinance 19-005-B also passed unanimously and amended the 2019 budget. Wallace noted that the general fund unassigned balance totaled $3,295,668 after modifications. Building Plan review and building permits totaled a combined $167,244. With only a decrease of $945 to the airport fund, Wallace noted that this may be the first time that under $100,000 was transferred to the airport.
“That’s a good news story if there ever was one,” said Wallace.
As Wallace was finishing his report, Councilman Steve Carrington asked when the council’s strategic planning meeting would finally be scheduled to discuss major issues and schedule discussions throughout the coming year. Wallace replied that he did not have a date and was still waiting on all council members to reply. As council members wondered who had not yet responded to a council email scheduling the meeting, Richard Best chimed in telephonically that he had not yet responded.
“I’m waiting to see what the Legislature will be doing, whether or not I will be sequestered here in Juneau since the desire is to have all of council physically there,” said Best.
On Tuesday, Mayor Edna DeVries asked Best when the Legislature would be legally required to adjourn, which Best joked had not yet been challenged in court. Best also said that he may be unable to return to Palmer for the meeting until as late as May.
“Since one of our council members is also serving in the Legislature, it seems to somewhat be interfering with council business. Is there any way that we could maybe do it without him so that we could actually get going,” asked Councilwoman Julie Berberich.
Best has attended two of three council meetings in 2020 telephonically and did not participate in the council’s first meeting in February. Best was joined in attendance on the phone Tuesday by Councilwoman Jill Valerius.
In July, Best applied for former Deputy Mayor Pete LaFrance’s seat, but was not selected. After a stalemate of three votes each for Best and Dr. Valerius over the course of two separate meetings, the council compromised and selected Imran Chaudrhy, who served on the council during the interim between LaFrance’s departure and the election last fall. During the questioning process of finalists for the vacant council position, Best was repeatedly asked about his availability for meetings due to his employment as Chief of Staff for Representative Ben Carpenter (R-Kenai). Best further stated that he had with him an opinion from the Legislative Legal department clarifying that there would not be any conflict of interest with him potentially serving both on the council and as an aide in the Legislature.
“I do not have anything that will prohibit me from attending council meetings in person on a regular basis,” said Best in July.
City Clerk Norma Alley noted that the latest dates the meeting could be scheduled were between April 18 and April 25.
“I do apologize,” said Best. “If we could push it out to the last date that was there, I think it, let the cards fall where they may whether I get to participate or not but I agree with councilwoman Berberich, there’s no sense in holding up for one individual council person.”
Palmer Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ailis Vann presented on the economic impact of events in the city put on by the chamber and noted that chamber members will attend more council meetings to work together for the betterment of the city. The chamber puts on Small Business Saturday following Thanksgiving, Colony Days in the Summer and Colony Christmas in the Winter, Friday Fling, the Midsummer Garden and Art Faire and the Shop Palmer and Taste Palmer events. Vann reported that three businesses reported their largest retail days of the year on Small Business Saturday.
“We care deeply about those small businesses and hearing that that day is their biggest day for the entire year means a lot,” said Vann.
In 2018, 16 businesses participated in the five week Shop Palmer event. In 2019, 22 businesses participated for three weeks. Despite the shorter period, Vann said that those 22 businesses reported $277,000 of spending, totaling $30,000 more than the year prior. Vann said that more shopping at local businesses occurs during the winter Colony Christmas when weather forces people indoors as opposed to Colony Days in the summer. Vann said that 42 floats were entered into the Colony Christmas parade.
“We bring in thousands of people to our town with that event. We had the biggest parade we’ve maybe ever had for a Christmas parade, which is saying something because the weather never cooperates,” said Vann. “This is where I feel our city really shines.”
DeVries awarded the Golden Heart Lifetime Achievement Award to Betty Pierce, one of the three award recipients in 2020, joining Dr. Alex Hills and Gary Wolfe.
“Palmer has always supported me really well and when I went through cancer by myself back in ‘07,” said Pierce. “Palmer really rallied around and put together several events that made me feel not so alone.”