The Sitka Assembly is postponing its decision on how to distribute $50,000 in funding to the community’s nonprofit organizations, until it has more clarity on its own budget.

Every year the assembly sets aside money for grants to nonprofits, many of which provide social services in the town. This year, eight nonprofits applied for portions of the available $50,000, including organizations like Braveheart, the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, and Sitka Counseling. But with a precarious city budgeting season on the horizon for next fiscal year, a majority of the assembly, including Member Thor Christianson, wanted to hold off on distributing the funds.

“I’m advocating postponing not canceling this, though it may look a little different at the time. I think the picture will be clearer in two months,” he said.

Member Kevin Knox was not in favor of a postponement, and said the assembly should approve the grant distributions. He said the money helps organizations gain leverage to get more money, and for many of them, their proposals wouldn’t be covered with federal CARES Act funds, which has strict parameters. 

Member Steven Eisenbeisz was also wary of postponing a decision.  

“I understand delaying the vote, I understand going forward with the vote now,” he said. “It’s been budgeted, we knew that this was coming up. We would have had an opportunity during budget times to pull it back if we thought necessary, but we also didn’t know the breadth of this COVID [pandemic].” 

During public comment, several applicants to the grant program asked assembly members to reconsider postponing a vote to distribute the funds. Michele Friedman at Braveheart said her staff had budgeted in anticipation of receiving the grant. And COVID-19 had made grant funding even more crucial to the organization’s operations, as they usually depend on public events to make up some of their fundraising.  

“We usually make a good chunk of money from Alaska Day. And then we make some money on our bowls event. And those things are not happening this year for us,” she said. “It is a time that we do need this money coming in and we’ve budgeted it, we’ve planned on it.”  

Assembly member Richard Wein said now was not the time to be moving money from the general fund, when the city had CARES Act money they could direct toward some of the nonprofits that applied. 

“I would like to make sure everybody is happy. But the thing is, is that the city has to be happy as well, otherwise we’re just going to be Shel Silverstein’s tree [referring to a character from the book ‘The Giving Tree’] and I don’t think that’s a place to be.”

The assembly voted 4-3 to postpone the distribution of the funds until its first meeting in November. The vote was 4-3 with Mayor Gary Paxton and Members Knox and Eisenbeisz voting against the postponement. 

While the assembly postponed this round of grant funding, at the same meeting it approved another wave of grants for businesses and nonprofits, to be funded with the city’s leftover CARES Act money. Read that story here.