May 18

Mayor’s Update - May 18, 2020

Posted on May 18, 2020 at 2:04 PM by Joshua Stecker

Hello Gig Harbor Citizens,

I hope you are well and doing ok as we continue through the lockdown. I know this is hard on all of us. Earlier this month, the Governor extended the Stay Home, Stay Health order through May, and I know that felt disheartening.

I know many of you have strong thoughts and opinions about the re-opening schedule. To share your voice with state government, you can use the Public Inquiries phone number at 360-902-4111. I have been working on speaking directly to the Governor to share our feedback. Here at the City, we are getting a lot of pressure to open some businesses. I do not believe it is fair that a hardware store, or grocery store can be open, while a small business that could have one or two customers at a time is not allowed to open.

Other examples include a Pilates studio that could offer a class for three to five people open with social distance practices. I feel strongly that health and wellbeing falls under the essential business category.

I’ve also heard about a dog groomer not allowed to open, while a pet store that sells dog food can do grooming. Allowing one provider to offer a service while shuttering another isn’t right.

We are getting a lot of pressure from many kinds of businesses that say these phased rules are very hypocritical and not fair to their business. We need some answers from the Governor soon.

In these last weeks, the Governor provided a long-awaited update on the plan to re-open Washington, which included a tentative timeline outlining four phases. We’re currently in Phase 1 where construction projects that were already in motion can resume, provided they follow social distancing and a number of safety restrictions. Landscaping is allowed now too, along with automobile sales, retail for curb-side pickup only, car washes and pet walkers along with expanded outdoor recreation opportunities.

Essential travel is still the only kind permitted through the remainder of May, so be mindful of where you go. Public lands are open for some recreation purposes – you can hunt, fish, golf, play tennis, get on the water with paddle sports, hop on an ATV or off-road vehicle, or go biking or hunting – but social distancing measures still need to be observed. Drive-in church services are now allowed with one household per car.

When we do move to Phase 2, gatherings with five people outside your household are allowed. All outdoor recreation, including camping and beach time is allowed, but travel is limited to within the proximity of your home. Manufacturing, new construction, in-home and domestic services like nannies and housecleaning can resume. In-store retail purchases will be allowed with restrictions. Real estate and office-based businesses can resume. Hair salons, barbers and nail salons can open, and restaurants can open under 50% capacity, with tables that seat no more than five. The earliest phase two is able to be considered is after May 31st.

In Phase 3, outdoor recreation and sports activities from five to fifty people can resume. Recreational facilities can operate at under 50% capacity. Gatherings of less than 50 people can resume along with non-essential travel. Restaurants can operate at under 75% capacity, bars at less than 25% capacity, indoor gyms at less than 50% capacity, and movie theatres at less than 50% capacity. Government services, libraries, museums and all other business activities excluding nightclubs and events with more than 50 people can resume here. The very earliest that Phase 3 will be considered is on June 22nd.

In Phase Four, we can all resume public interaction, with physical distancing. All recreational activity resumes, and gatherings of over 50 people are allowed. All travel is allowed and nightclubs, concerts, and large sporting events return. The earliest phase four will be considered is July 13th.

I want to thank you all for the sacrifices you’ve made in the past few months for the wellness of our community. This has been and will continue to be a time that truly tests what we’re made of. I applaud the parents working with their kids each day on schoolwork and their own telework. I applaud the furloughed workers who have filed for unemployment benefits at midnight to get through. I applaud our teachers for putting together continuous learning plans, and our businesses for adapting to unimaginable circumstances to modify their offers and to survive.

There has been real loss for some in our community – some people have had to bury loved ones without funerals or the ability to say goodbye in person. This has been a devastating time, and all of us have experienced it on different levels. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with the loss of a loved one. Everyone deals with it differently. It’s not just about coping with a loss, but coping with change that takes time…and a lot of time. Things that help could be writing in a journal, talking to someone, or trying to do things that make you happy. Reach out to a friend for help.

One of the things that makes Gig Harbor an incredible place to live is our shared sense of community. We want to recognize “Lasagna Lady” Michelle Brenner for donating home-made lasagnas to families and essential workers, and Wendy O’Neill, one of the admins of the popular local Facebook group “Gig Harbor’s Positive Town Talk,” who has started fundraising for small local businesses.

We also want to bring attention to those helping to bring a smile to the people around them, from the “driveway dancers” in the Harbor Hill neighborhood, to a surprise appearance by Chewbacca, spotted enjoying the sun in downtown. That’s one really creative approach to wearing a mask.

We have some good news to confirm – the City of Gig Harbor will be receiving a total of $323,100 from the CARES Act for local economic support. We do not know when these funds will arrive, but we are working on eligibility requirements with the state, and will be presenting a plan to council at our May 26th City Council meeting.

The City has been getting many questions about summer events. The downtown Farmer’s Market, presented by the Downtown Waterfront Alliance, will return on June 18. It will likely look a little different, and social distancing will be enforced. We are tentatively planning for the best-case scenario, reaching Phase 4 by the first possible date, July 13. We are working on permits for Summer Sounds at Skansie and Movies in the Park, along with the return of the Gig Harbor Trolley for when we move to Phase 4.

I will continue to give regular updates on the city’s Facebook page with our live Q&A videos. Next week, I’ll be live on Tuesday morning to answer questions on the state’s latest directives and provide updates from the city, and on Friday, we’ll welcome Dr. Anthony Chen, Director of Health for the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department. If you have questions, this is a great time to ask.

I want to encourage each one of you to contact your favorite businesses and ask if you can support them in this time. If not, they may not be here when we re-open. Please continue to wear your mask while out in public, this will protect others around you.

Here’s an update on what we’ve been working on with our City Council over the past few weeks:

  • Council met in study session on April 30th to discuss the City’s 2020 budget. They’ll meet on May 28th to review current projects. The city is carefully considering any expenditure in this economic climate. There are tough decisions ahead and we may not fully know how much lost revenue we’re facing until later in the summer. One early number to share: real estate excise taxes for April 2020 were down 24% from last year.
  • A project to supply water and wastewater service for part of downtown continues at Lift Station #6, and we’ve put out an RFQ for a third-party consultant to determine the right size for our police force, for both safety and economic reasons.
  • At the May 11th Council Meeting, Council approved allowing city staff to accept digital signatures for certain types of documents. This will help speed up some processes during the COVID-19 pandemic but will also allow us to be more efficient moving forward.

We also have some updates to share from our city departments:

  • With construction allowed to resume, our building department is now conducting inspections. Two big projects going on right now are the new Peninsula School District elementary schools – building #9 across from the YMCA and building #10 at the Bujacich site.
  • The City’s Public Works crew started performing landscape maintenance again, and is excited to make the City’s landscaping look nice again. Park restrooms are now re-opened and are being cleaned regularly.
  • The Municipal Court has successfully implemented video conferencing hearing via Zoom with live streaming from the court website, allowing us to better serve the community at this time.
  • From the Gig Harbor Police Department, Officer Eddy Dominguez was awarded the department Lifesaving Award for a recent call where he performed CPR for approximately two minutes which saved a life.

We continue to move forward on other projects as much as we can. The City is working towards an RCO grant and a Land and Water Conservation fund grant – if we get these, this could bring $1M dollars in grant funds to the Sports Complex Phase 1B project, covering the construction of bocce ball courts, pickleball courts, a playground and parking.

The City is also working with the Jerkovich family on a lease to allow the City to use their existing pier at Ancich Waterfront Park to build a human-powered watercraft float. This could potentially save the City a lot of money and replace building our own float system, while also saving the Kayak Club from having to meet their $500,000 fundraising commitment. This is in no way a done deal - costs and details will still have to be looked at closely.

We are also exploring options for future use of the Masonic Lodge Building, including remodeling or potentially tearing it own. There are many upgrades needed to make it usable if we remodel, like a kitchen, better restrooms, windows, and ADA access. We could partner with many groups to help find the funds to pay for the remodel.

When we get to Phase 4, we’ll hold a public forum to get your thoughts on what would be the best use the building – potentially even a community hall.

We know there is a while to go until things return to normal, and that there will be a lot of adjustments to make in the coming months. Our city has been through difficult times before and come through stronger and more appreciative of our community and the wonderful place we are lucky to call home. Support each other, be kind to each other, and we’ll see you soon.

Stay healthy out there,

Kit

Apr 28

Mayor’s Update - April 28, 2020

Posted on April 28, 2020 at 4:27 PM by Joshua Stecker

Hello Gig Harbor Residents,

We are now a month into the Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy proclamation and I want to thank you all for all you’ve done to help us stop the spread of COVID-19. I know it has been hard for many of us to be stuck at home for so long, especially with the nice spring weather.

With having to adjust to new ways of conducting business or having to make difficult financial decisions, many of our residents and business owners have been affected and are experiencing hardships. At our City Council Meeting on April 13, we took a proactive step intended to benefit all residents and businesses in hopes of  lessening the impact so many of us are facing during these unprecedented times.

Every City utility customer will have their base rates waived for two months of water and wastewater services. For most single-family homes, this will be a savings of about $120 that should appear on your April/May or May/June bill. This comes at a cost to the City of about $600,000 in revenue, however, because of prudent financial management, we are able to pass that savings along to our residents, and we feel it is the right thing to do.  We are also highly encouraging landlords to pass these savings to their tenants and contacting private utility companies here in Gig Harbor to provide similar relief to their customers.

Puget Sound Energy (PSE) is making $11 million in funds available to help customers who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes customers who recently became unemployed, are partially unemployed, or cannot work. These are carry-over funds under PSE’s Low-Income Program. With approval from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, PSE revised its program to make these funds available to a wider group of customers. We applaud these efforts.

Currently, the Gig Harbor area has 50 cases of COVID-19 in the Gig Harbor area. The Tacoma Pierce County Health Department reports that cases have not increased in the past week. This is good news, but we are in no way out of the woods on this just yet. Over the weekend, the Health Department also reported the first COVID death in Gig Harbor as well.

We are all in this together, please continue to wear a mask while you are out in public to lessen potential exposure. We know there have been reports of some counties that have questioned the enforcement of the Governor's stay at home and social distancing order. Rest assured, we are enforcing the order here in Gig Harbor.

MultiCare has reported they have stayed below capacity. There has been considerable strain on personnel, but operations have continued as planned. If you think you have 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.

St. Anthony Hospital currently has capacity for all levels of care. Based on new CDC guidelines, CHI Franciscan has started "universal masking" at all facilities. Everyone entering a facility, whether you are a patient, visitor, staff, provider, physician, you will be required to wear a mask while onsite. Masks will be given at the designated entrances already being used for symptom screening.

One of the groups hit hardest by this shutdown have been our local businesses. Many have reached out to the City and the Council for help. The City will also be affected by lost revenue, but we are working hard to help support our businesses where we can. There are many options for businesses to get help and we are collecting as many of those as we can as they become available. You can view these on the City’s COVID-19 Local Business page.

Pierce County just expanded their Emergency Small Business Relief Loan Program to include Gig Harbor, and we are glad to see that program in motion. The U.S. Small Business Association loans, including the Paycheck Protection Program have been slow on distribution, but we have heard existing applications are started back up to provide support to businesses to keep their employees paid. The Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber is doing webinar updates three times a week and we are constantly looking for more ways to help.

The Civic Center remains closed to the public now through May 4th. We will provide an update on future closure by May 1st.

We are happy to report that the Governor has started letting construction resume on existing projects, as long as safe social distancing rules are followed. The City will resume inspections on projects as long as construction sites are in compliance and we can ensure the safety of our employees. We are receiving permit applications as of yesterday, April 27.

In our Public Works department, all essential City utility and transportation operations, maintenance, and capital projects continue to occur. The city closed all public park restrooms out of concern for public safety and the safety of our staff. We will be reopening these restrooms on May 5th in line with the Governor’s Phase 1 plan on opening some public lands for recreation.

The Municipal Court continues to conduct remote court hearings weekly for administrative and emergency matters.  The court has video/audio hearings via Zoom with livestreaming from the court website to allow participation under social distancing requirements.

Our police officers all remain healthy and on patrol.  We are slowly getting the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from the Department of Emergency Management and the fire district.  We bid adieu to Officer Mike Cabacungan as he retired from law enforcement after 16 years with our department (and two years with Los Angeles Police Department before that).   Mike had a terrific heart and passion for the job. It would have been ideal to have acknowledged his service to our community in person in front of the public he served, but we want him to know that we truly appreciate his dedication and wish him the best.

I have been part of the Association of Washington Cities update calls with all Mayors. I have been impressed by the amount we as a city have been doing to share information. We’re reaching about 9,500 people on the City’s Facebook page, including the twice-weekly Live updates we do on Tuesday and Friday mornings at 10:00AM. I encourage you to join and ask questions on your mind. 

We’ve recently hosted special guests including Representative Michelle Caldier and Pierce County Councilman Derek Young (who will be on our May 7th Facebook Live Q&A). If you’re looking for information on local busineses to support, our Gig-A-Byte newsletter is now sent weekly. You can sign up at www.gigharborguide.com/gig-blog

Some good news to share for everyone spending extra time in the yard - The Purdy Transfer Station is again accepting yard waste on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 9 and 11 a.m. Be prepared when you go, the transfer station is no longer accepting cash as of April 8th, but major credit cards including American Express are accepted.

Peninsula School District is back in session with virtual learning. Weekday meal service for students continues. As a resource for parents, Gina Cabbidu at the Children's Home Society of Washington is working hard to provide positive parenting resources for families with children ages 2-12, and 13-17, along with gift cards for families in need. You can donate at www.childrenshomesociety.com.

Pierce Transit is currently running on a reduced weekend schedule, and they have increased the size of the bus to accommodate social distancing, meaning they are operating on a detour route. Due to this, approximately six bus stops along Pioneer will be omitted.

Contracts have recently been sent out to several nonprofit groups, including Harbor WildWatch, the Gig Harbor BoatShop, the Harbor History Museum, and Race for a Soldier to provide them with the amounts previously approved in 2019 from our lodging tax fund. Each year we support groups that bring visitors to the city, and revenue to our local businesses. This year will look a bit different, but we continue to work to provide support where it is needed most.

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, and we want to commend our many volunteers for programs throughout the city. Our volunteers truly make sure our city continues to be a wonderful place to live, and we couldn’t do it without them. We have so many great volunteers including our Citizens Offering Police Support (C.O.P.S.), all of advisory board members, our Skansie House tourism volunteers and many other local organizations. THANK YOU!

This year it is extra important to recognize the individuals and businesses who are really stepping up to the plate during the COVID-19 crisis. They say in times where we’re tested, that’s when we truly shine. I’m so proud of our community and our volunteers, now and year-round. Our gratitude to them continues to grow. There are a lot of groups and organizations fund raising and trying to help the community, and it is very inspiring to witness. Whether it is a concert fundraiser or Ocean 5 giving food out to those in need, or a Pilates studio doing a Zoom class to raise funds, we commend you and we will help spread the news.

Below, a few updates from recent action from City Council:

On April 13th the City granted a franchise agreement to ExteNet for telecommunications, which includes fiberoptic cable and small wireless facilities. This is the City’s first franchise agreement to allow for small cell (5G) wireless boxes. To put up these boxes, ExteNet still needs to go through the City’s permit process and we are doing everything we can by law to make sure these will be done as safely as possible with the least impact to the city. Council and I are very concerned about the health risks and potential impacts. We will be monitoring the information our country gathers as the contract is for 5 years and hopefully, we will learn a lot more prior to any renewal.

Also, on April 13th, the City Council authorized staff to work with a consultant to make safety improvement designs on the East side of Burnham Drive. This will include bike lanes, sidewalks, and crosswalk lights for a very busy stretch of roadway.

At a study session on April 16th, Council asked staff to provide new renderings for options for Lift Station 6, located in the Ryan Street neighborhood. We are trying to find the best option to protect the view and neighborhood, whether that means partially burying the lift station or moving it out of the way on Craig Lane. We will hold an open house for residents once we have the options ready for review.

The City’s work continues to provide all the services you need. Thank you to all of our staff members who are continuing to work either remotely or coming in because you are essential workers. We couldn’t make this all possible without all your hard work and dedication to public service.

I would like to say this is a very difficult time for everyone. Many businesses and people have or will lose jobs and the financial stability that they once had. Some of us have lost a loved one through this as well. Unlike most times, we have not even been able to say goodbye, have a funeral or experience closure of the life we cherished with them. There's no right or wrong way to deal with the loss of a loved one.

It's not just about coping with a loss but coping with change that takes time. It might be helpful to write a journal, talk to someone, or try to do things that make you happy or reach out to a friend for help. It feels terrible at the time of pain. But if you can weather it, have faith, and rise above it, you will be amazed in time at how far you will have come. Everyone believes how they want to, I personally believe in God and that He WILL help us through this.

Life rarely goes as planned. Often, life will take you in a completely different direction than intended. Having faith, for me, means that you believe things will work out -?maybe not right now, but in the end.

We will get through this, it’s the how we get through it that matters. Show your best out there, rise above, stand tall, believe in yourself, that you can do it, and help one another. That might mean having patience while homeschooling, staying healthy through exercising or cutting out quarantine snacks. It might be being positive, cutting your neighbors  some slack, looking at the positive, or just getting through each day. Give yourself a little grace and understand this is new territory for all of us.

You can do it, and you will do it -- and together we will get through this, even if we are apart as we do so.

Stay well,

Kit

Apr 09

Mayor's Update - April 9, 2020

Posted on April 9, 2020 at 3:10 PM by Joshua Stecker

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 -

Kit