The Sitka Assembly Thursday night (9-21-18) passed out $45,000 in grants to local nonprofit organizations — but not to the Sitka Community Land Trust.
Note: Affordable housing remains a top issue for many of the candidates in this year’s municipal election. You can find more information on the candidates at KCAW’s 2018 Election Hub.
A total of ten organizations were in line for funding in various amounts. Prior to the meeting, each assembly member reviewed the applications and recommended either full- or partial-funding of the request.
If any organization failed to get an award from at least 4 assembly members, its request was zeroed out and redistributed to other organizations in the same general category.
That’s what happened to the Sitka Community Land Trust: Only three of Sitka’s assembly members approved an award — Mayor Matt Hunter, and members Bob Potrzuski and Ben Miyasato.
Former mayor and Land Trust director Mim McConnell was stunned that the four other assembly members had awarded her organization nothing.
“So I was a little shocked when I came in and saw all the zeroes,” said McConnell. “I’m still shocked. I’m completely flummoxed. So I didn’t see this coming. Even $1,000 would have been helpful for showing support from the city. We’ve been given land by the city — by the community. And zero? Seriously?”
The Land Trust had planned to begin construction of a cottage neighborhood this summer, but ran into a setback when the municipal land donated to it for the purpose — known as the old city shops — tested positive for soil contamination. The Land Trust appealed to the city for support for the expensive remediation, but was denied, and ended up footing the bill itself.
Three of the four assembly members who scuttled the Land Trust Funding — Steven Eisenbeisz, Kevin Knox, and Aaron Bean were silent on the matter. Richard Wein said he valued the pursuit of affordable housing, but he didn’t think the Land Trust was working.
“They were having a great deal of difficulty in being able to put together their idea,” said Wein. “And so I was very uncertain. I certainly wouldn’t object giving a symbolic amount to them.”
No one on the assembly offered an amendment to award the Land Trust money, and its request was diverted instead to Sitka Trail Works, which received a total of $8,714.
The other organizations sharing the $45,000 in grant funding include the Salvation Army, Sitka Counseling, Southeast Alaska Independent Living, Alaska Arts Southeast, Betty Eliason Child Care Center, and the Greater Sitka Arts Council. The top recipient was Brave Heart Volunteers, which won just over $9,000 in funding.