When the Sitka Assembly met on Tuesday (7-28-20), it approved a final CARES Act spending plan for the city, and most of the budget was unanimously approved. 

Sitka is set to receive over $14 million dollars in federal aid. The coronavirus relief funds must be spent before the end of the calendar year.

Read an outline of the budget here

Over the last two months, a working group drafted the budget, which is divided into six categories. The first category, $4.5 million for utility and moorage subsidies, was approved earlier this year.

The remaining $9.5 million includes $5 million dollars for small business and non-profit grants. How big of a grant a business qualifies for depends on its 2019 revenue.

$2.5 million will go to new city funded programs, like housing assistance, a transitional employment program, and childcare. $1 million will go toward city mitigation and safety costs and around $600,000 dollars will be set aside for additional emergency costs that may come up before the end of the year. 

The assembly approved all but one budget category unanimously. Around 430,000 was budgeted for the Sitka School District to pay for laptops and Americorps positions. Assembly member Richard Wein suggested that before the city transfers any CARES Act money, the school district should return a recently distributed portion of federal money. Secure Rural Schools money is federal funding that can be spent on schools or road repairs. 

“I hate to sound like a broken record- for those who don’t know what a record is it’s similar to a CD and for those who don’t remember 8-tracks or CD’s, it’s similar to streaming when you’re internet doesn’t work,” he said. “However, I still believe the school district needs to give back the Secure Rural money. That allows us to spend it in a particular way which is, I think, far more efficient way. And the CARES money would replace it.” 

Member Valorie Nelson agreed. But member Kevin Knox pushed back, saying that the Secure Rural Schools funds can be spent throughout the school’s fiscal year. 

“They’re not apples and apples, it’s apples and oranges,” he said, “And I don’t think they should be giving the money back. I think they should be using that money for longterm benefit throughout the school year.”

The funding for Sitka schools was approved 5 to 2 with members Richard Wein and Valorie Nelson opposed. 

Though the assembly has given its final approval of the CARES Act budget, it will vote on smaller facets of it at future meetings as the city flushes out the details around each of the programs. For example, any time the city plans to use the CARES Act funds to contract out any services outlined in the budget, that will come before the assembly for approval. The CARES Act funding must be spent before the end of the calendar year. 

In other business, the Sitka Assembly: 

  • Approved a resolution “highly encouraging” mask use in public spaces, on a 5-2 vote with members Valorie Nelson and Kevin Mosher opposed. Read the story here.
  • Approved $100,000 in seed money to begin the design phase of a marine haulout project- 6-1 with member Valorie Nelson opposed
  • Approved a new city compliance officer position, 5-2 with members Valorie Nelson and Richard Wein opposed
  • Unanimously approved the CARES Act small business and relief recovery application
  • Unanimously approved submitting and execution of Municipal Harbor Facility Grant Application to the State of Alaska DOT and Public Facilities in the amount of 1.7 million for the Eliason Harbor Electrical Replacement
  • Unanimously authorized the city administrator to execute a Clean Vessel Act Grant with ADF&G for $39,000 to support the Crescent Harbor Float Replacement project 
  • Unanimously approved the minutes of the July 14 assembly meeting 
  • Unanimously approved marijuana license renewals for AKO Farms 
  • Unanimously voted to reappoint Mary Ann Hall to a three year term on the Local Emergency Planning Commission