Ketchikan’s city council is rethinking how to distribute millions in federal pandemic relief aid. The council hit the “pause” button on a planned $2.5 million transfer for the borough’s small business aid program Thursday.
Council members have set aside roughly half of the city’s total of roughly $12 million in CARES Act funding.
Some of the city’s programs have attracted quite a bit of interest — city officials told the council Thursday they anticipated that $1 million set aside for rent and mortgage assistance would be gone in the next few days.
On the other hand, a program set up to help boat owners with harbor fees wasn’t seeing as much interest. Less than 10% of the roughly $300,000 set aside for moorage assistance had actually gone out as of mid-August.
Here’s City Council Member Mark Flora’s take.
“60 days or so into this program, I think the unemotional analysis is [that] programs are both cumbersome and really aren’t working as well as, as we had hoped. So we said we would reevaluate this and I think the present is an excellent time to do that,” Flora said at Thursday’s meeting.
Flora said he’d support redirecting some funds from lesser-used programs to fund direct payments for people who have taken a financial hit from the pandemic.
Some suggested taking money from the harbor fee program. But Ketchikan’s port and harbor director, Steve Corporon, pushed back, saying he expected an uptick in applications following a lackluster salmon season for fishermen.
Going into Thursday’s meeting, city council members looked poised to green-light about $2.5 million for a small business assistance program run by Ketchikan’s borough — the council had already approved the transfer in concept.
But the council was a little cooler on the prospect Thursday. City Manager Karl Amylon put it this way:
“If the money that we’re going to send over is just going to sit there, I don’t think that’s what you want,” Amylon said.
“No,” Council Member Judy Zenge replied, “So can we postpone this?”
That’s what the council did — members unanimously voted to push the $2.5 million small business aid transfer to their first meeting in September.
Amylon said he’d bring back recommendations for how to use that money — how much should go towards the borough’s business assistance program and how much could potentially be redirected elsewhere.
City finance officials say they also expect to bring back plans for a second round of aid, roughly $3.1 million. They’ll have to spend that and another $3.1 million third round by the end of the year to avoid handing that money back to the federal government.
Ketchikan’s city council meets again September 3.