Nome’s port commission confronts near-empty bank account

Aerial view of Nome’s port. (Photo: Joy Baker/Nome Port Director)
Aerial view of Nome’s port. (Photo: Joy Baker/Nome Port Director)

Nome’s Port & Harbor finances are not looking good. The city’s Finance Director Julie Liew broke the news at the most recent Port Commission meeting.

The port’s net margin, or rainy day fund, dropped to just $32,000 at the end of last year. That’s down from a quarter of a million dollars two years ago.

This worries Commissioner Charlie Lean.

“It sets off red flags all over the place for our net for the last complete fiscal year to be $32,000,” Lean said. “If somebody else had sneezed it’d be zero.”

Port Director Joy Baker, who attended the meeting by phone, was equally as concerned.

“I think the number that Julie [Liew] threw out is extremely low, considering that that fund should serve as our rainy day fund, which means it needs to get built back up.”

Baker said a costly repair, like a failing fuel line valve, could sneak up out of nowhere.

“You know, we have to anticipate being able to address these deferred maintenance issues, whether they’re $10,000, $100,000, or $200-300,000,” Baker said.

The Port Commission already expects over $100,000 worth of repairs for the upcoming season.

“We have to plan for that,” Baker urged, “as well as future development costs.”

In order to increase the number of dollars available in case of an emergency, the Commission voted to raise all port and harbor related rates by 10 percent. Port Commission Chair Jim West voted against the rate hike.

“Every little increase affects the cost of living in Nome, some way or another,” West said.

The 10 percent rate hike, as well as changes to the 2016 tariff, passed at the Port Commission meeting. The rates and tariff now go to the Nome City Council for final approval.