Fairbanks City Council holds last meeting for 2019

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) On Monday evening, Fairbanks City Council convened for their final meeting of 2019. Council chambers were full, with community members in attendance to speak on various issues including the city budget, commerce and economics in the downtown area, liquor license renewals, and new ordinances.

Cub Scout Pack 92 recited the Bill of Rights on the last City Council meeting before Bill of Rights day. (Ramzi Abou Ghalioum/KTVF)

The meeting, which lasted several hours, also saw ceremonial matters like the retirement of FPD officer Peyton Merideth, and the reading of the Bill of Rights by Cub Scout pack 92. City of Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly dedicated the reading to Frank Turney, an advocate for Bill of Rights Day and Fairbanks citizen who recently passed away.

The issues which experienced the most debate among council members and largest volume of citizen testimony included the renewal of the Spur’s liquor license, the 2019 and 2020 budgets, and a proposed tax on vaping products.

Last week, the council voted to protest renewing a liquor license for the Spur, a local country bar in Fairbanks, due to a large number of police incidents at its address, as well as testimony given by Lt. Greg Foster of FPD.

Afterwards, Councilmember Valerie Therrien filed a request with the city clerk to reconsider the vote. Therrien claimed that this was a courtesy to the owners, who had not been present for the initial vote, to address the concerns of the council.

After testimony by each of the Spur’s three owners, as well as citizen testimony given earlier, and a round of questioning by councilmembers, the Council voted to overturn last week’s vote protesting the Spur’s liquor license.

Also on the agenda was an ordinance regarding the 2019 budget. There was some deliberation regarding moving an amount of money from the general fund, or the city’s daily operating budget, to the capital fund, which is the budget allocated for infrastructure and assets such as heavy machinery. After that discussion, the council approved the 2019 budget.

Next, the council addressed the 2020 budget. Amendments were made increasing the budget for councilmember travel, the city engineering department, and a dispatch alarm system replacement. Councilmember Therrien proposed an amendment increasing the police department’s budget which was not passed. The council then voted to pass the amended 2020 budget.

After the budget ordinances, the next item on the agenda was an ordinance to tax e-cigarettes and vaping products.

The ordinance, which was introduced last week, proposed adding a definition to the current tobacco tax for vaping products, including adding a definition of “any noncombustible device that provides a vapor of liquid nicotine to the user” Citizen testimony saw both protests and support for the ordinance.

Councilmember Aaron Gibson, who introduced the ordinance, mentioned that he had introduced it simply for the sake of clarifying the current language in the tobacco tax ordinance, and did not realize it would be an issue of contention.

Valerie Therrien voiced concern about the availability of vaping products to children in schools, and raised the issue of the recent case of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI).

However, councilmember David Pruhs mentioned that the tax was on a revenue stream, and that vaping products do not present a significant enough source of revenue for the city to be taxed.

In the end, the council’s vote was split, but a “no” vote by Mayor Matherly resulted in the ordinance’s failure.

The Fairbanks City Council is next scheduled to convene for a Finance Committee meeting on January 7, 2020.

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