Ketchikan’s borough assembly has approved a spending plan for about $5 million in coronavirus economic relief. The money is designed to aid businesses and residents affected by the pandemic.
It’s not clear when the funds will be made available, and even after the programs were approved Monday, specifics remain sparse.
Borough Finance Director Cynna Gubatayao said the borough is trying to move quickly on getting the money into the hands of residents and business owners. She says it’s important to minimize how much time and money have to be spent administering the programs. And borough officials are facing a hard deadline.
“If we don’t get the programs in and done and spent and over with, right now, by December 30, then it passes from our community and goes somewhere else,” she told the assembly.
And that could mean the aid isn’t distributed perfectly. People could double-dip, or people who haven’t been affected could access the programs.
“I’m afraid we just have to recognize that that’s going to happen,” Gubatayao said. “We will do our best to keep it down to a small percentage. But that is going to be the nature of a fast program.”
But here’s what we know so far:
Up to $3 million will be set aside for local businesses. These will likely be grants ranging from a couple thousand to around $25,000. It’ll likely be based on data the borough already has — sales tax records, according to Gubatayao.
“And if we can measure from March-April-June of last year to March-April-June this year, it’s pretty clear that the decline is going to be based on the impacts of the pandemic and the actions we’ve taken to protect the community,” she said.
Beyond direct payments to businesses, there’s up to $1 million more for utility relief. Details aren’t yet clear, but customers would submit a simple application certifying that they have been financially impacted by the pandemic. That’s a CARES Act requirement — funds are intended to help people hurting because of the pandemic. Ketchikan Public Utilities, the city-owned electric provider, would give the resident a flat subsidy based on the account type — whether it’s commercial, industrial or residential, things like that.
Three programs will get up to $200,000 in funding each: First, a reimbursement program for pandemic-related expenses — masks, gloves, cleaning supplies and such. Businesses submit receipts, the borough writes a check — pretty simple. But many details, like how to submit receipts, what exactly is eligible, whether there’s a cap on reimbursements, remain unclear.
Another up to $200,000 is earmarked for a food and housing security program, but again, how exactly the money will be distributed is an open question.
A $367,000 request from the city of Saxman resulted in protracted debate. Saxman got its own CARES Act funds, but Saxman’s $293,000 allotment is a fraction of the $10+ million the borough is set to receive.
But it wasn’t clear whether the five projects proposed by Saxman City Administrator Lori Richmond — from beefed-up security at Saxman Seaport to City Hall renovations to an LED-lighted sign outside the community center and shelter — would qualify for CARES Act funding.
The assembly ultimately voted to grant Saxman’s request pending review by the borough attorney. It’ll come back for final assembly approval at a later date.
The assembly also voted 5-2 to prioritize development of a child care assistance program for the next round of funding.
But aside from those, most of the other programs will take effect without any further input from the borough’s elected body, says borough attorney Glenn Brown.
“So these items, absent us needing additional direction from the assembly — for instance, as it relates to the Saxman request — we’re going to go forward,” he said.
Borough Clerk Kacie Paxton said in an email Tuesday that officials are still working out details of the relief package and will release “an outline of the programs” Friday afternoon.
In other business, the assembly finalized a sales tax holiday set for July 11. That’s the same date approved by the Ketchikan City Council at its last meeting. This year’s Permanent Fund Dividend will be distributed July 1.
For full disclosure, Ketchikan Borough Attorney Glenn Brown sits on KRBD’s nonprofit board of directors.