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Kalama council rejects local COVID proclamation, shapes business relief program

Kalama council rejects local COVID proclamation, shapes business relief program

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On a 3-2 vote, the Kalama City Council Thursday rejected a proclamation barring law enforcement and city officials from enforcing Gov. Jay Inslee’s coronavirus stay-at-home orders.

The council and staff also outlined criteria for a relief program for local businesses affected by the pandemic and hope to start accepting applications in two weeks. The city will use federal funds reimbursed to the city by the state Department of Commerce.

The city should receive about $87,000 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security funds, said Adam Smee, city administrator. About $25,000 will be used for the city’s virus response expenses through the end of the year. About $55,000 to $60,000 will be left for the city to distribute to affected businesses and community members, he said.

Councilman Steve Kallio said he doesn’t like the idea of using the money to reimburse the city instead of using all the funds for the community.

Smee said the city has “substantial expenses” and can’t run a deficit. He said the city has been frugal, especially compared to some cities that don’t have any federal money to give to the community after covering their own costs.

The city will use some of the money for modifications required in later phases of the governor’s reopening plan, such as installing glass barriers and personal protective equipment, as well as to cover expenses from social distancing modifications, Smee said.

The council agreed on using most of the remaining money for businesses and about 10% for individuals in need that have not received a stimulus check or unemployment.

Coni McMaster, city clerk/treasurer, said businesses won’t be allowed to use the money to replace lost revenue.

The city last week sent out a survey to 225 businesses to find out how they’ve been affected by the pandemic and what kind of aid they need, McMaster said. The survey results could help inform the council’s criteria for the relief funds, she said.

Councilman Matthew Merz suggested only businesses that are partially or fully closed should be eligible for the money. He also suggested offering funds on a sliding scale rather than a set amount.

Kallio said the application process must be as transparent as possible, especially since Kalama is a small town and councilmembers are familiar with many of the businesses.

McMaster proposed that Merz and Councilwoman Sandra Macias work with her and other city staff to create the application to bring back to the council on June 4 for final approval.

The council also discussed allowing businesses to spread out seating into the sidewalk, parking areas or street to improve capacity limited by the governor’s regulations. Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan would allow restaurants to open for dine-in but at 50% capacity. Retail businesses are limited to 30% occupancy whenever the county is approved to go to phase 2.

The council agreed that the city needs to find out what businesses want before deciding anything. Merz and Stanfill agreed to reach out to businesses in the next few days and notify the city of the responses.

The council considered a proclamation similar to the one the Kelsey City Council ejected on a 5-2 vote. It would have instructed law enforcement and city officials to not enforce Inslee’s COVID orders.

Merz requested that the proclamation be considered and wrote a letter in favor of it. Kallio also voted in favor of the measure. Wendy Conradi, Macias-Hughes and Stanfill opposed it.

Police Chief Ralph Herrera said as far as he’s aware of, there’s been no known enforcement or criminal citation in Washington related to the governor’s order.

Sam Satterfield, city attorney, said although there’s been no criminal charges, the state Attorney General’s office has issued cease-and-desist orders to businesses opening against the governor’s order. The AG’s office has also threatened businesses with removing their licenses or charging a civil penalty, he said.

The proclamation wouldn’t benefit the city because even if businesses that open would face no repercussions from the city, the state will enforce sanctions regardless, Satterfield said.

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