CARES Budget Gets Sitka Assembly’s OK

Category: Local News
Created on Wednesday, 08 July 2020 16:11

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

The Assembly gave its approval Tuesday to the proposed budget and a plan for distributing the $14 million in CARES Act funds to Sitka individuals, businesses and organizations.

The purpose of the federal funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is to provide “fast and direct economic assistance for American workers and families, small businesses, and preserve jobs for American industries.”

With approval of the proposed budget, the Assembly still has to introduce and pass individual ordinances setting the figures for the separate categories.

Votes on the ordinances are scheduled for July 14 and 28.

Applications for the utility and moorage programs are already being accepted.

Only five of the seven Assembly members were present, and the motion to approve the proposed CARES budget passed on a narrow 4-1 vote.

Voting in favor were Kevin Knox, Kevin Mosher, Richard Wein and Mayor Gary Paxton. Valorie Nelson cast the lone vote against.

The plan was submitted by a committee created for that purpose and called the Working Group. It calls for funds to be apportioned and distributed in a number of categories:

Moorage and Utilities relief - $4.5 million (application period will be open until the end of July).

Business and Nonprofit Grants - $5 million total (business and nonprofit grants from $2,500 to $10,000).

New City Programs - $2.5 million, including funding for childcare centers, food security, behavioral and mental health, housing support, transitional employment

Impact and Mitigation - $1 million, including internet technology, protection of employees and public, continuation of city services, CARES funding consultation, public safety.

Sitka School District - $430,000 for Americorps volunteers, and computer purchases for students, for distance learning options. 

Contingency - $627,653.

Mosher and Knox, who are members of the Working Group, said they realized the plan was not perfect, but they were eager to get help to those who need it - including individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations.

“This is the best we have with the limited resources we had,” Mosher said. “It’s not a perfect plan.”

Valorie Nelson voted against. She said she liked most of the ideas for distributing funds, but needed more information about the source of the economic data, and the social programs category.

“I know there’s an urgency to get the funds out but there is too much left unknown,” she said today.

Wein said he was inclined to be “Doctor No” on the proposal. He said he’d like to see more funding available for improving food security in the short- and long-term, and more details on projects envisioned under the “transitional employment program.”

“There are some things that haven’t been adequately thought about,” Wein  said.

He suggested that the city start accepting applications to get a better idea of the demand for each category. But in the end he voted in favor in order to “move it along.”

Paxton said the Assembly could make adjustments once city staff sees how many and who are applying for the funds. He and a few others said they’re interested in getting funds out as soon as possible to provide help to those in need.

Commenting today, City Controller Melissa Haley said the distribution plan for CARES funds is still a work in progress.

“This is still being developed but we need to know the amounts to further develop the programs, and know what we have to work with,” she said.

The Sitka School District recently offered to return its share of Secure Rural Schools funding to the city ($229,000), in return for receiving an equivalent amount from the CARES funds. But at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting City Administrator John Leach said the proposal had been withdrawn.

From the public, Gayle Young voiced her support for funding for services for the “unsheltered” population of Sitka. She told of the increased challenges faced by this segment of the population during the pandemic and the decline in the number of buildings available as shelter. Other communities are using CARES funds to provide shelter for men, a need that persists in Sitka, she said.

“When there is an opportunity to submit a grant request, I hope we can finally make a spot for those who have no spot,” she said.