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A WALK IN THE PARK – Jim Moormann walks through Sitka National Historical Park this morning, as he has every day for the past two and a half years. This Saturday is National Trails Day, an annual event which began in 1993 to honor the National Trail System. In normal years volunteers help with trail maintenance in parks across the country. This year there will be no organized cleanup in Sitka and, without tour ship visitors, Sitkans will have the park to themselves. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

City Faces Challenge Using CARES Funds

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

The Assembly at tonight’s work session will discuss ideas and rules related to spending the $14 million or so in CARES Act funds designated for Sitka.

Comments from the public  generally aren’t a part of Assembly work sessions, but Mayor Gary Paxton said he’ll talk to the Assembly about taking public  comment, but only after Assembly discussion.

“We’ll need 30 to 60 minutes to talk among ourselves about a very abstract issue,” Paxton said. “We need a very broad discussion to sort things out about where and how we’re going to fund these things.” 

The work session starts at 6 p.m. at Harrigan Centennial Hall with one item on the agenda: “Discussion on CARES Act funding.”

The meeting can be viewed in real time on the city’s YouTube channel. A link is available at cityofsitka.com

The federally funded Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is intended to provide “fast and direct economic assistance for American workers, families and small businesses, and preserve jobs for our American families,” says the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

City Administrator John Leach said the city needs to apply for the money, and must spend it by the end of the year. He said he received the paperwork for the grant Friday afternoon.

“We’re not making any decisions tonight,” Leach said today. “This is more or less a way to have an open discussion. ... I hope to get some guidance on where and how to spend CARES Act funds that align with the best interest of the community.”

He added that if the city does not follow the rules and guidelines, it risks having to return the money, a concern that’s been brought up also by finance staff.

“Right now the big thing for us is we still have very little guidance on the allowable uses for the CARES Act funds,” said city controller Melissa Haley. “It’s pretty restrictive right now.”

For some time, Assembly members and city staff have been hearing from residents about the financial damage the coronavirus lockdown is causing them. Leach said the ad hoc Economic Resiliency Task Force, representing different sectors of the economy, has been weighing in with staff of the effects on businesses.

“Those have been heard loud and clear,” the city administrator said.

The information packet for tonight’s meeting is available on the city website, under Assembly Agenda and Minutes. It includes information from finance staff for the Assembly to consider in its discussion.

“All funding must be expended (payments made) by December 31, 2020; any unexpended funds must be returned to the State of Alaska,” the finance staff says in the second paragraph. “Funding will be received in 3 tranches, and each tranche must be expended before the next tranche is received.”

There are references to the city’s “White Paper” on CARES Act guidelines and restrictions, and sections on “Important Restrictions,” “Unknown Requirements” that may impact expenditures, “Major Areas for Consideration for Possible CARES ACT Fund Use (e.g. first responder costs, small business and nonprofit grants), Administrative Resource Requirements, and “Appropriations.”

There are eight other attachments in the information packet.

“We’re at the point where the Assembly can begin making decisions on they wish to spend it on,” Haley said. “It’s going to be our job to make sure those uses are legal, and we’re not going to have to pay it back. If we have to give it back, we’re talking millions that have been spent - that will hurt the municipality.”

She cited the example of Hurricane Katrina in the eastern U.S., when five years after the disaster the federal government was recouping emergency funds spent by the local governments that were later deemed ineligible.  

Haley said more guidance has been coming in from the U.S. Department of Treasury, and she and city finance director Jay Sweeney plan to stay in touch during the process with the city’s auditors and other finance officers around the U.S.

Paxton said he and other Assembly members are certainly interested in getting information from the public about CARES Act needs.

“How to deal with businesses, how to deal with nonprofits,” he said. “This is the first broad discussion ... If we get the $14 million we’re supposed to, we will have plenty of money to help a lot of businesses, but we need to do that in a fair and equitable manner.”

 

 

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 6-5-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 11:50 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 11

Total statewide – 524

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 48, and the cumulative number of deaths is 10.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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