Some attendees of the Ketchikan Pride Alliance’s 2021 Pride Picnic attendees hold up past years’ posters and smile. Ketchikan’s borough mayor pledged to veto funding for the Ketchikan Pride Alliance on Monday. (Max Lubbers/KRBD)

Ketchikan’s borough mayor pledged on Monday to veto a roughly $1,600 grant to a local nonprofit organization focused on providing education and support to LGBTQ people. Ketchikan’s borough assembly green-lit a wide range of grants to nonprofit community organizations on Monday in a package totaling nearly $390,000.

The Ketchikan Pride Alliance told the borough’s grant committee that it hoped to use the money to hold events, create a website and gather data on Ketchikan’s LGBTQ community. But Borough Mayor Rodney Dial said he was concerned that by granting money to the organization, the borough would be funding a political cause.

“We’re now taking and funding a new organization that a lot of people in this community would not want us spending our tax money on, supporting what they see as a social justice issue,” Dial said. “And so I just, I felt that it was a divisive thing for our community.”

Ketchikan Pride Alliance Vice President J.D. Martin said in an interview that the grant would fund three events: the organization’s annual Pride Picnic in late June, plus two other outings yet to be determined — though at this point, she says the group is not planning a parade.

Martin takes issue with Dial’s claim that the group is inherently political. She says the nonprofit’s 501(c)(3) status under the federal tax code prohibits it from weighing in on political issues.

Nothing that we produce is political in nature, and that’s also very intentional on our part. We think the idea that LGBT people and our identities are inherently political is not correct,” Martin said. “We’re just people.”

Martin says LGBTQ people come from a variety of backgrounds and hold a wide range of political beliefs.

The package of nonprofit grants passed Ketchikan’s assembly 6-0. A five-member supermajority of the assembly could override Dial’s veto.

The Ketchikan borough’s grants committee, made up of two assembly members and three residents, received applications for more than $500,000 in community organization funding. The committee recommended holding funding flat for organizations that had previously received borough money and funding most new applications at 50% of the requested amount. Assembly Member Jaimie Palmer, who sits on the grants committee, defended the Ketchikan Pride Alliance grant.”

“For the Pride Alliance, the idea of the borough’s strategic plan, improving quality of life for all citizens on this island, and they met the requirement of education in wanting to have outreach events, and so that’s where the thinking was there,” Palmer said.

Assembly Member Jeremy Bynum was the only member of the assembly who indicated he would support removing Pride Alliance funding from the borough’s grant funding.

Dial has used his veto power sparingly since he was elected in 2019. But it’s not the first time the borough mayor has objected to issues involving the LGBTQ community: he vetoed a nonbinding resolution in 2020 asking the Alaska Legislature to include gender identity and sexual orientation in the state’s nondiscrimination statute. The assembly later overrode that veto.

In other business, Ketchikan’s assembly voted 5-1 to fund all but approximately $350,000 of the school district’s budget request. Ketchikan’s school board had asked for $1.1 million more in borough funding than the previous year to pay down a deficit in its self-funded health insurance program.

Bynum was the lone vote against the school district budget. He said he wasn’t convinced the school district had done enough to stabilize its insurance fund.

“This is pretty straightforward and simple. In my book, if you want to run a health insurance plan, and you don’t want to go out and go on the market for it, you run it like a health insurance plan. That means that when costs go up, you raise premiums,” Bynum said.

Assembly Member David Landis floated the reduced figure as a compromise.

“It seems to me that some happy medium is what we’re looking for,” he said.

The reduction in funding allowed the assembly to pass the school district’s budget without a supermajority vote.

The remainder of the borough’s budget passed unanimously.