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State Budget Cuts To Hit Unalaska Organizations — City, Clinic, And More

Berett Wilber/KUCB

When Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed almost $400 million from the state budget in June, Unalaska stood to lose about $1.34 million in funding for local organizations including the city, school district, and clinic.

Dunleavy has since backtracked on a number of those vetoes. But as KUCB's Laura Kraegel reports, the community is still slated to take a hit.

State funding to Unalaska is down by at least $587,000 under Alaska's final operating budget signed Monday by the governor.

That number is almost certain to increase, however, when local leaders have had more time to figure out how statewide cuts will filter down to the community.

For now, the City of Unalaska looks to be the biggest loser. City Manager Erin Reinders said Dunleavy has vetoed $511,000 in funding that the local government was counting on.

"But it does appear as though we'll be able to accommodate these changes this fiscal year," she said. 

Reinders said the city is fortunate that its reserves can absorb the roughly 1.5 percent hit to its budget for fiscal year 2020.

Still, the city will spend more than it planned to keep alive three programs previously supported by the state: the local emergency planning commission, which lost $10,000 in state funding; debt reimbursement for Eagle's View Elementary Achigaalux, which lost $136,000; and debt reimbursement for the Carl E. Moses Boat Harbor, which lost $365,000.

"Next year, if additional cuts occur, we'll have to get our thinking caps on and make some strategic decisions on how we move forward with the budgeting process — and also with the level of services that we're able to provide," she Reinders.

Among the local services facing more immediate impacts are health care, higher education, and environmental monitoring.

According to Interim Clinic Director Will Rodgers, Dunleavy's Medicaid vetoes will affect low-income Unalaskans receiving care at Iliuliuk Family and Health Services.

He said he's just figuring out how much the $50-million-plus hit to the state program will hurt locally.

"What'll happen is they'll be on a sliding fee scale," said Rodgers. "We have grants to help cover that, but everything's been tight for a number of years here. So it will have an impact. We'll see how things work out."

Unalaska's extension campus is in a similar wait-and-see position.

With Dunleavy slashing $25 million from the University of Alaska this year, university officials said rural campuses will likely see cuts — as will outreach initiatives like Alaska Sea Grant, which receives funds through the university.

"Things are very much in the air," said Melissa Good, head of the local campus. But she's "feeling optimistic that we'll still be able to offer classes."

Good is also hoping that her work as a Sea Grant agent — responding to distressed marine mammals, monitoring the local environment, and teaching science in regional communities — "will not see too much change."

Unalaska Community Broadcasting, on the other hand, is already moving forward with budget cuts based on the governor's vetoes.

General Manager Lauren Adams said public radio and television is losing about $2.7 million statewide, including $76,000 for the local station.

"One cut is not enough to destroy our organization, but I certainly fear how we will sound and how we will bring Unalaska local programming," said Adams. "That's why people use us and love us and turn the radio on. So we're certainly working our way through that."

Adams said the station will produce less arts and culture coverage through Channel 8 TV, as well as replace full-time staffer Chrissy Roes with part-time employees when she leaves her post later this year.

When he announced the wide-ranging cuts in June, Dunleavy said they were necessary to balance Alaska's budget by next year, while still paying full permanent fund dividends under the formula in state law.

"We ran on a platform of trying to close this budget," said Dunleavy. "We're using an approach in which we are reducing the size of government. We believe we can get there. It won't be easy. But the other options were not going to be easy as well."

As Unalaska organizations have grappled with the threat of state funding cuts over the last several months, many have refrained from taking a position on the Dunleavy administration or its push to reduce Alaska's spending.

M. Lynn Crane, however, said the governor is wrong to take on the budget gap — or pursue full permanent fund dividends — at the expense of so many public services.

Crane is the director of Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence (USAFV), a nonprofit shelter and resource center.

"I think the cuts — which impact the low-income folks in our community, of which there are a lot — increase stress level," she said. "That contributes to increased domestic violence, increased child abuse, and increased self-medicating."

With that in mind, Crane said USAFV is preparing for a challenging fiscal year, even though the organization has level funding. She expects Unalaskans to make greater use of its food bank, shelter, and other resources.

"We stocked up on a lot of food with the end of our FY19 budget," she said. "We'll deal with any increase in demand for services by rotating schedules like we always do and by being flexible. We'll work with our community partners to make sure people aren't falling through the cracks hopefully."

The city and other Unalaska organizations are expected to amend their FY20 plans now that the state budget has been settled. Depending on the organization, that process that could take weeks or months as officials continue parsing local impacts.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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