Unalaska's nonprofits have always relied on a mixture of tourism, city funding, and local donors to keep their coffers full. But the coronavirus pandemic has threatened all three revenue streams.
Now, local nonprofits who were planning spring fundraisers or banking on cruise ship traffic are concerned about their financial futures. And though the City of Unalaska awarded the vast majority of their grant requests for fiscal year 2021, officials warn that next year will likely bring large funding cuts.
Virginia Hatfield, director of the Museum of the Aleutians, said the museum had to close its doors to the public on March 16. Since then, they've had to postpone, and possibly cancel, their community art show, along with another exhibit opening that will now be postponed until the fall. The museum's store has also been closed, and many cruise ships and ferries – whose passengers bring in thousands of dollars for the museum and other businesses in Unalaska – have cancelled.
"I looked at kind of the worst case scenario, and we are going to lose most of our earned income," said Hatfield. "We're losing some of our membership sales, and a lot of our daily sales – certainly for March, April, and May – as long as we're closed. Of course, the decrease in admissions is going to be really big, since this is our biggest season. The summer is really when we make most of the earned income in our budget, and it's really going to be a difficult time."
While the museum and other nonprofits are looking for support from the community during this unprecedented time, the city chose to fund nearly 97 percent of this year's financial grant requests from local nonprofits, including more than $317,000 for the Museum of the Aleutians.
At its meeting on April 28, the Unalaska City Council voted to give more than $1.31 million to 10 community organizations. That's about a 12 percent decrease from last year, and less than the $1.35 million that nonprofits had asked for.
Councilors approved the final figure 6-0 after some debate over cutting partial funding to two of this year's 10 nonprofit applicants, in order to avoid exceeding the available funding amount for fiscal year 2021.
After several years of fully funding all nonprofits – with the exception of last year– councilors said they were trying to be fiscally responsible by not exceeding the city's spending goal. To that end, they reduced funding for two nonprofits: The Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska, and Iliuliuk Family and Health Services (IFHS).
The Qawalangin Tribe had initially requested $50,000 for its annual Camp Qungaayux, but Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson said it is unlikely the culture camp will take place this summer due to the coronavirus. He suggested amending the amount to reflect what last year's number was, reducing the grant to $24,000.
"It is unlikely for the camp to take place this year," said Robinson. "The tribe is trying to come up with some alternative methods of getting it out there. But at this point, I don't believe we're going to need that money at the tribe."
Councilors were split over reducing funding to IFHS. Recently, the clinic received about $1.1 million in emergency funding, including $500,000 from the city.
Some councilors said they could reduce funding to other nonprofits in order to meet the city's recommended funding cap, but that in light of IFHS's recent emergency funding allocation, reducing the clinic's grant amount would be the least painful option.
Councilor Darin Nicholson supported reducing IFHS's funding, and said if the clinic ends up needing more money, the council can evaluate that in the future.
"They have received a lot of money from a lot of other entities, and I think $18,000 is a very small price coming off of what their grant is and everything that they have received," said Nicholson.
Councilor Shari Coleman disagreed. She said going over the city's recommended cap was warranted during these times.
"The clinic is a tough one to be cutting money for right now, especially at this time of need," said Coleman.
Councilors voted 3-3 to cut the clinic's funding by $18,740 and award 90 percent of its $180,000 request. Mayor Vince Tutiakoff Sr. broke the tie by voting in favor.
Councilor Thomas Bell said that the full effects of the coronavirus on the city and local businesses is still unknown. He cautioned about leaner times to come, and that nonprofits should brace for funding cuts.
"Next year, there may be a completely different financial situation," said Bell. "And I would just urge that all the nonprofits look ahead, because unfortunately there could be some large cuts."
At their meeting, councilors also voted unanimously to grant the Unalaska City School District's $4.3 million funding request for fiscal year 2021.
The Unalaska City Council is expected to discuss the city's overall operating budget for fiscal year 2021 at its meeting on May 12.