Hello Gig Harbor,
Happy Holidays to everyone! I hope you are celebrating safely and can be close to your loved ones.
While our celebrations might be a bit subdued this year, you can still see our holiday spirit on display throughout the city, particularly the harbor area. Our annual tree is aglow at Skansie Brothers Park and our downtown streets are aglitter with festive lights. Add to this the many boats that have been decorated and the stores that have displays and we have a truly wonderful experience to help lift our spirits. I’m delighted the city and its employees were able to contribute its efforts to make this happen. The boat parade last Saturday was a fantastic success with 54 boats and numerous kayaks that was enjoyed by a huge crowd that turned out to watch.
This Saturday, December 19 at 4:30 pm, there will be a Lighted Car Parade if you’re looking for an event to participate in the festivities. Also, PenMet Parks and the Kiwanis are hosting “Santa’s Village” for dropping off letters to Santa at Sehmel Homestead Park on Friday, December 18 starting at 3:30 pm.
We continue to see our COVID-19 case counts rising at an alarming rate. The Governor has extended tougher restrictions into January to help us and keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed. A travel advisory for Washington State is still in effect and a 14-day quarantine for interstate and international travel is recommended. We’re asking residents to stay close to home and limit non-essential travel. Please take these precautions seriously even though it may mean we don’t get to see our friends and family like we normally would. Please do everything you can to help support one another in these challenging times especially our small businesses. Your support is vital and will hopefully help them recover and come back strong once we are through this.
The City remains committed to taking the appropriate steps to ensure the safety of our community - I ask you to comply voluntarily with these restrictions to get past this quarantine period as quickly as we can. Although city staff will not be actively looking for violations of the Governor’s order, we hope every citizen and business owner will follow the state directive to do our part to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Our Civic Center will remain closed to the public through April 2 and many of our employees will continue to telework through that date. If the situation with the pandemic improves to the point where we can safely open the Civic Center and have teleworking employees return to work prior to April 2, we’ll provide you with notification in advance of the change. We feel this is the right thing to do for our employees and our community to slow the spread of the virus and help support our employees with their individual circumstances.
One of the hardest hits from the pandemic has been the impact on our small businesses, many of which are still unable to fully reopen. This week, we prepared a letter that Council members and I signed to send to our federal senators and representative imploring them to immediately provide financial relief to our small businesses through additional and substantial funding for the Paycheck Protection Program and other means. We also requested more state and local government aid, additional direct payments to individuals, assistance to people dealing with other pandemic impacts (nutrition assistance, housing, etc.), and more for measures to combat the virus directly (vaccine distribution, testing and tracing efforts). We really need our representatives in Washington, DC to act now to help us.
Early in the pandemic, we passed an emergency ordinance to make it easier for restaurants and businesses to have outdoor dining and sidewalk sales. We also waived the fee for these permits. The ordinance has now been extended through at least December 31, 2021. We are hoping that businesses will feel more confident in investing in outdoor improvements knowing that they will be allowed for all of 2021.
Pierce County has scheduled a free local COVID-19 mobile testing station on Friday, December 18th from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM in the Chapel Hill church parking lot at 7700 Skansie Avenue. These tests are free and results are available in five to seven days.
At the December 14 City Council meeting, Council adopted the City’s 2021 budget. I am very pleased with this budget as it allows us to keep all our current staff and accomplish our biggest priorities. At the same time, we’ve taken a very cautious approach to our revenue expectations for 2021. We still don’t know what the long-term economic effects of COVID-19 will be. We have purposefully built our reserve savings over the last few years and the City is in good financial shape because of that.
Included in the approved 2021 budget is $75,000 in lodging tax grants to several local nonprofits. Lodging tax funds can only be used to promote tourism-related activities – this is a very specific way for the city to encourage economic development and assist our local nonprofit organizations. This year’s recipients are Harbor Wildwatch, the Downtown Waterfront Association (for the farmers’ market), Permission to Start Dreaming Foundation (Race for a Soldier), and the Gig Harbor Film Festival. We have reserved $50,000 to fund other opportunities in 2021 for which we’ll announce in the spring the opening of a second cycle for grant applications.
The City has been exploring ways to honor the Native Americans who lived in Gig Harbor before the first European settlers arrived. We’ve been working with the Puyallup Tribe and formed an ad hoc committee to discuss ideas for restoring the name where their village once was. We also want to honor the present family name of the park and are working to do this as well.
On January 6 at 5:30 pm, the Parks Commission will be holding a virtual public hearing on this issue along with a presentation for the public to hear and comment on the potential name changes. Members of our community are invited to join the meeting and give their thoughts and ideas. The Parks Commission will make a recommendation to Council and Council will make the final decision on January 25th.
We continue to take the stance that Gig Harbor cannot accommodate expansion of the Tacoma Narrows Airport. On November 23, Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) Executive Director Josh Brown updated the City on the PSRC regional airport study. We have requested that PSRC remove the Tacoma Narrows Airport from its list of airports recommended for expansion. We are also working with the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC) and have requested that it does not recommend expansion to the state legislature.
One important step in reducing or eliminating the possibility for expanding the airport is to get Pierce County to formally join us in this opposition. Pierce County is the airport’s owner. This week, I sent a letter that included all our councilmembers' signatures to Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier and County Councilmember Derek Young asking them, as owners of the airport, to request that the CACC remove the TNA from its list.
On the employee side of things we are happy to welcome our two newest police officers! I was honored to swear them in Monday night.
Officer McKenzie Fosberg is a native of Gig Harbor and graduated from Gig Harbor High School in 2010. After obtaining her degree from Washington State University, she served for five years with the Moscow, Idaho Police Department. She is eager to serve her hometown.
Officer Mark Burns grew up in Anacortes, Washington. He served for five years as a corpsman in the U.S. Navy and then served for two years at the Seattle Police Department. Mark has been a Gig Harbor resident and is happy to now work in a small-town environment.
This past Wednesday council and administration were presented a summary overview of the employee engagement survey from the company that administered it. The results still need to be sent to us so we can work together to formulate a plan moving forward. We have addressed some employee concerns identified through contract negotiations, but we will carefully review the outcomes of the survey, continue to get employee feedback, and will work together to help create a better working environment for our employees. I look forward to additional conversations in the coming months to better understand where we can improve and how to implement solutions.
I wish each of you and yours a safe, warm and healthy holiday and a happy New Year!