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Bethel City Council confusion causes delay in budget amendment

Bethel City Hall
Olivia Ebertz

Bethel City Council member Rose “Sugar” Henderson was the Mayor pro tem during the last city council meeting because Mayor Mark Springer was out of town. She introduced Ordinance 23-11(c) to change the city’s 2024 operating budget, but it failed because none of the council members made a motion to adopt it.

The measure would have allocated funding to those who applied for a local Community Action Grant, but were unable to receive any money because there is no money. In fact, there’s a $97,875 deficit. Normally the Community Action Grant fund receives revenues from the city alcohol tax.

Acting Finance Director Brent Hartzell said that for the past three years, the Community Action Grant Committee gave out more money than it received from the alcohol taxes.

“I’m just looking at this purely from showing the difference between revenues and expenditures, and I have no opinion whatsoever on what the council wants to do on that. I’m just providing the data,” said Hartzell.

This has significant implications for local nonprofits. Take the Southwest Alaska Arts Group (SWAAG), which applied for close to a $32,000 grant to pay for the annual Camai Dance Festival. The application fell through the cracks. In addition to the lack of funding, there is also a lack of program oversight.

To help pay for the regional dance festival, the city would have needed to take money from its general fund. But at the council’s last meeting, that didn’t happen. City council members did not move it forward. Bethel City Clerk Lori Strickler said that's because the elected officials were confused.

“So talking to some of the members, it became aware to some of them that they had intended to consider that as a final action and to consider the approval of that ordinance. But there was, like I said, a misunderstanding of what the, of what the item was,” said Strickler.

According to Strickler, nonprofit organizations like SWAAG, Bethel Friends of Canines, Bethel Winter House, and others who rely on Community Action Grants should not panic because of the failed piece of legislation. It’s an error that can be fixed. Strickler stated that there is a way to get this corrected, adding "it might be a delay of the consideration of the final approval of the funding. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible.”

The next city council meeting is on Tuesday, Nov. 28, and the agenda that’s available on the City of Bethel’s website says that the first order of unfinished business is amending the operating budget. There are only two regular city council meetings left this year. December’s holiday schedule only allows for one meeting, so council members have two chances to make changes to the budget so that the local nonprofits can continue to serve the community without interruption.

Francisco Martínezcuello was the KYUK News Reporting Fellow from November 2022 through January 2024. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.