A view of downtown Sitka from the O’Connell Bridge (KCAW/Berett Wilber)

The national deadline to spend CARES Act money is just weeks away, and recipients around the country are scrambling to spend their shares of the $2 trillion dollar federal coronavirus stimulus.

When the Sitka Assembly met on Tuesday (12-08-20), City Administrator John Leach said the city was working quickly to spend the remainder of the $14 million dollars in CARES funding that the city received earlier this year.

“As we’re coming to a close here, the funding expires on December 30. I haven’t heard any word yet that this will get extended,” he said. “So we’re still trying to continue on with our program. Fortunately everything was appropriated and we’re working within our budgets and getting the money out there.” 

The CARES budget was drafted by a working group and approved by the assembly in July. It was divided into six categories, including utility subsidies, small business grants, funding for public safety, schools, and city programs.

“Sixty-six percent of all the CARES funding went directly into the pockets of our citizens, our business owners and their employees. $3 million of the $14 [million] went to citizens and schools in the form of support,” he said. “The remaining $1.6 million went to the city to allow them to continue the services to the community through the pandemic and have them have the necessary equipment available to help keep first responders safe.”

In September, the assembly approved a second round of CARES funding for small businesses and nonprofits. This week, city staff completed its final review of those applications. But applicants requested $400,000 dollars beyond the $3 million the city had left over to disburse. Leach said that meant grant awards would be trimmed across the board.

Businesses and nonprofits will receive less grant funding than they requested, but they won’t all see the same percentage cut. Businesses that reported higher losses will see smaller reductions in their grant amounts, and businesses that reported lower losses will see slightly bigger reductions.

View a breakdown how the city calculated grant reductions here

In an email to KCAW, grant analyst Rob Allen said 179 for-profit businesses applied. 147 of them were approved along with 18 nonprofits. 29 business applications were deemed ineligible for the program. City Administrator Leach said that while the program was not going to “make anyone whole,” he was proud of the way the federal funds were spent. 

“I think if you look around the state of Alaska, you’ll see that some of the other communities, and I don’t mean this to sound negative, but some of the other communities kept that money in control, the city has kind of controlled that and used it for their own needs, to serve the citizens,” he said. “But I think our grant program was very aggressive and our utility and moorage subsidies were very aggressive, and we got a lot of money back in the pockets of our citizens.”

Federal CARES Act funding must be spent before the end of December, unless Congress extends the deadline. 

In other business, the Sitka Assembly unanimously approved a $400,000 funding boost for the Brady Lift Station Rehab Project. The Brady Lift Station is responsible for pumping all sewage north of Brady Street to the Wastewater Treatment Plant on Japonski Island. But city staff says much of the lift station equipment is outdated. Rehabbing the infrastructure is expected to cost just over $1 million.

It also unanimously approved the disbursal of $50,000 in grant funding to the Sitka Police Department for security upgrades. And it unanimously appointed Cecilia Dumouchel to a three-year term on the Health Needs and Human Services Commission and Margie Esquiro to a three-year term on the Library Commission.