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Only 7 Of 12 Nonprofit Applicants Get Full City Grants, As Unalaska Stares Down Deficit

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Berett Wilber/KUCB
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With a budget deficit looming, the City of Unalaska won't fully fund this year's grant requests from local nonprofits.

The City Council voted last week to give $1.47 million to 11 community organizations. While that's a 15 percent increase over last year and about $250,000 more than councilors' spending goal, it's still less than the $1.94 million that nonprofits had asked for.

Councilors approved the final figure 4-1 after months of debating how to approach the city's projected shortfall of almost $8 million.

Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson voted with the majority, but he berated councilors for "quibbling" over money that supports local health care, museums, and more. 

"This is our community," said Robinson. "This is our community, and I think we should fund the requests they have this year."

Those requests were up more than 50 percent, however, thanks to half of the 12 applicants asking for more than they received last year — and a brand-new applicant asking for almost $400,000.

In response to the budget crunch, councilors took a case-by-case approach. They didn't grant any funding to first-time requester Bering Sea Giving, which wants to provide end-of-life care to elders around the Aleutian Islands.

Councilors were more generous with repeat applicants, granting full funding to seven, including Iliuliuk Family and Health Services, the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, and the Unalaska Visitors' Bureau.

The other four received grants worth less than their requests — from Unalaska Senior Citizens, which was granted $57,467 instead of $65,000, to the Holy Ascension Cathedral, which was granted $100,000 instead of $150,000.

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After recent years of fully funding all nonprofits, Councilors Jim Fitch, Dave Gregory, and Alejandro "Bong" Tungul expressed support for the compromise.

Councilor Roger Rowland, however, said the council wasn't being fiscally responsible in exceeding its spending goal.

"All of these nonprofits are worthy and deserving, but I will be voting against this $1.469 million," said Rowland. "I think it's too far over our guideline."

Councilor Shari Coleman was not present at the meeting and did not vote.

Frank Kelty didn't vote either in his role as mayor, though he said he was happy with the funding level. Still, he's concerned about the threat of state budget cuts in the future.

"I’m really worried about — if we did get whacked by the state of Alaska — how we're going to fund these nonprofits," said Kelty. "It'll be a choice: nonprofits or we cut city services and city employees. And I hope we don't have to go there."

For now, the city is moving toward an overall operating budget of about $30 million for fiscal year 2020.

About 80 percent of the money for nonprofits will come from the designated fund for community support grants. The rest will come from undesignated reserves in the general fund.

For organizations that didn't receive full funding, nonprofit leaders have said they'll pursue a variety of different avenues to support their operations. Some plan to dip into savings or cut services. Others will hold extra fundraisers or delay new hires and purchases.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019.
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