Greetings, Gig Harbor residents.
These are trying times for us and everyone around the country. So much has changed since my last blog post on March 20th that affects every one of our lives. You can find me hosting live Q&A sessions on the city’s Facebook page each Tuesday and Friday at 10:00a, and on the radio (KGHP 89.9 FM) on Wednesdays at 1:00p.
Many of us are following the Stay Home, Stay Safe guidance and staying safe at home as much as possible. At least the sun is out and the weather is warming up so we can all enjoy springtime from our yards.
The Coronavirus situation evolved quickly, and we have been working to respond as fast as possible. The best source is the City’s COVID page on our website, www.cityofgigharbor.net, which we update throughout the day. You can click on the banner at the top of the page to access it.
On 3/23, the City adopted a Declaration of Emergency order, which gives me some limited authority to help quicken the City’s response to the virus. Working with Council, we passed an emergency ordinance suspending all late fees and interest for people having trouble making utility payments to the City, and we were the first city to do it. These fees will be waived for six months after the emergency proclamation is ended.
We have worked hard internally to present an ordinance to Council to temporarily reduce City utility rates (water/sewer). Right now, if you use City water and sewer, you’re charged a fixed base rate and then a rate for the amount of water used or the amount of sewage flow. We have recommended removing the base charge to provide some immediate financial relief to any residents or commercial/retail operators. This will reduce City revenue by approximately $588,000 over a two-month period, however, we have been prudent in our financial management, and feel it is our responsibility to give short-term rate relief where we can.
The City’s Finance Director, City Administrator and I briefed Council on 3/26 to review possible budget impacts from Coronavirus. We met with our Departments and identified projects that can be put on hold -- but still remain in the budget. For other projects, we found alternate funding outside of the General Fund. Council supported our work on these projects. We’re also looking at a hiring freeze for some positions.
A day later, I issued a proclamation temporarily suspending the ban on plastic grocery bags and plastic utensils. Our grocery stores are having a hard time getting enough compliant bags in stock, plus, many sources have recommended that reusable bags could carry the virus.
For our local businesses, there are updates to follow for applying for a U.S. Small Business Administration loan. Many have forgiveness options for retention of employees, and some existing SBA loans are offering deferred payments. There are Payroll Protection Plans (PPP) available as well. We have links to further details on our city website.
St. Anthony Hospital has capacity for all levels of care, and tents have been set up for any possible surge. They also recommend you use virtual care options when possible to reduce risk of transmissions and preserve PPE. For mild symptoms, you can schedule a free virtual visit at www.franciscanvirtualcare.org by using code: COVID19. For more severe cases or if you are in a high-risk group, they recommend going to a triage center.
Peninsula School District has closed to students for the remainder of the year. All buildings will remain closed, but learning will continue after Spring Break, resuming on 4/20. High school seniors are going to get support from guidance counselors on the credits they still need for graduation, and the district is working on a solution to honor these students’ graduation in a new way.
The Peninsula School District is also continuing to provide meals on weekdays Friday from 11:00AM -1:00PM at several schools throughout the district, and via bus delivery. You can find details on the city’s website. Childcare is still available in a limited capacity for children of first responders and health care workers.
Pierce Transit has updated schedules, including moving Route 100 (Purdy-Gig Harbor to TCC) to a Sunday schedule, running eight times a day from 9:45AM – 5:30PM, and Route 102 (Purdy-Gig Harbor Express) has been discontinued for now.
On the city side, our Civic Center is closed to the public through April 17. Our police department continues to function, and answers all calls for service. For reports of non-essential businesses, we’re asking you Not to call 911, but report online at www.coronavirus.wa.gov. Our Public Works department, all City utility and transportation operations, maintenance, and capital projects continue to occur.
We are still receiving, reviewing, and issuing permits, but most construction activities are non-essential and are prohibited. Critical infrastructure construction is the only category allowed to continue at this time. The City is providing inspections only for projects deemed “emergency/ essential” by our Community Development Director.
We’ve been getting a lot of calls about work like tree removal or grading and clearing happening without permits. This isn’t just illegal, it’s unsafe. Please reach out to our community development staff to ask questions on projects. Anyone who violates the permit process will have a civil penalty to pay.
Here are the other topics that your Mayor, City Council, Commissions and Staff have been hard at work on throughout the month of March:
- At the March 23rd Council Meeting, Council approved a few items. The Arts Commission awarded $20,000 in grants to local groups for community art events; 2020 recipients include: the Harbor Poetry Collective, the Gig Harbor Film Festival, the Harbor History Museum, the Greater Gig Harbor Open Studio Tour, Spectrum Choral Academy, the Gig Harbor Boat Shop, and the Gig Harbor High School Band Boosters.
- Council also authorized the City to begin work with a consultant on planning for Crescent Creek Park. This plan will look at expanding the park to include the Masonic Lodge and sand volleyball courts, along with adding amenities and looking at ADA accessibility. This will be worked on only after we get through this crisis.
- The City announced our seventh straight Well City Award from the Association of Washington Cities. The award comes with a 2% cost reduction on medical premiums paid for City employees.
- A contract with the Gig Harbor Canoe & Kayak Race Team to raise $500,000 to help build a human-powered watercraft float at Ancich Waterfront Park was also authorized. The GHCKT has now signed this lease as well as the city. They also signed a new lease for use of the storage shed at the park, and it requires them to meet their fundraising goals.
- At a Special Meeting on March 30th, Council approved salary adjustments for executive-level employees to bring their salaries more in line with other cities. This helps the City be more competitive for future hires and makes sure we pay our employees fairly.
- Also, on March 30th, the final plat for the North Creek development was approved by Council. The process began back in 2006, as a “vested” property, many of the new development regulations passed by Council recently don’t apply to this development.
- On April 2nd, Council was given an update on the feasibility study for the Fishermen’s Homeport for Ancich Waterfront Park. The study is polling our fishermen and neighbors to get input on how the homeport could function. Council supports funding assistance from the fishermen. They also discussed personal vessels using the dock and the future of fishing in the area.
In HR news, our Assistant Building Official Dave Kinley accepted a promotion with Kitsap County. He has been a great employee for the past 7 years and we wish him success. The City also welcomed a new IT Manager, Keith Smith. Keith worked for Bainbridge Island School District previously and he brings a lot of experience and new ideas to our team. We are excited to get to work with him.
Thank you to all of you for sticking with us through this time tough time. Remember to stay home, wash your hands often, and keep practicing all social distancing rules. I am proud to be your Mayor as I continue to see people supporting their community and going above and beyond. We appreciate our medical staff and first responders as well as our local businesses more than ever. We will get through this together.
Stay safe, Gig Harbor -