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Bethel City Council passes budget amendment

Bethel City Hall
Christine Trudeau
Bethel City Hall

The SouthWest Alaska Arts Group (SWAAG) has enough money to hold the full 2024 Cama-i Dance Festival after the Bethel City Council approved funding to fill a hole in its community grant program.

In August, SWAAG requested $31,700 from the council for the annual dance festival through Bethel’s Community Action Grant program. But Bethel City Clerk Lori Strickler said that the request wasn’t properly considered.

“Unfortunately, the Community Action Grant (CAG) program doesn't have a city staff member to support it. So the council put a pause on their meeting dates for the next couple of months. But also, it was discovered by the current interim finance director that there was a deficit in that fund,” Strickler said.

The fund Strickler is referring to is made up of 20% of the alcohol tax revenue that is specifically dedicated to the CAG program. When the council is developing the operating budget for the fiscal year, Strickler said that they estimate how much money they think they're going to obtain in revenue for the CAG program. And they put that in the budget.

“Unfortunately, the tracking of the expenses hadn't been reviewed as regularly as it should have been, and tracked then with the revenues, which resulted in, initially it was assumed to be a $98,000 deficit in the fund. Thankfully, after a deeper dive, it was discovered that it was closer to about $500,” Strickler said.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, the council voted to modify its budget to dedicate $31,700, the exact amount of the request from SWAAG, to pay for Cama-i.

“Instead of coming out of the city's general fund, which is our general tax base fund, it's now being appropriated to the alcohol tax, which is intended to be used for the Community Action Grant program. So instead of it being a donation, it's being funded from the Community Action Grant,” Strickler said.

Strickler also said that this will result in a zero balance in the fund until June, which is the end of the fiscal year. As of Nov. 30, there are no meetings scheduled for the CAG Committee to review new applications. The program is on hold, according to Strickler, and there’s no money in the budget for other grants for this fiscal year.

SWAAG isn’t the only organization in town that applies for grants. The Bethel Winter House, Tundra Women’s Coalition, and others have applied in the past. Although the city isn’t actively accepting applications, Strickler said that there are other ways for nonprofits to get financial help.

“So if there are people or organizations, nonprofits interested in obtaining support from the municipality, they should reach out to their council members and see if a council member would be willing to sponsor a budget modification, which is an amendment to our appropriations to account for the request of the agency,” Strickler said.

The city council discussion about the specific ordinance was confusing and took more than 40 minutes from opening until it came down to voting. In the end, the city council voted unanimously to change the budget in favor of funding the festival.

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.