Reduced State Funding To Hit Unalaska Organizations — City, Clinic, KUCB, And More

Aug 20, 2019

Downtown Unalaska, photographed from Haystack Hill.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB

When Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced a series of vetoes to 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 the island is still slated to take a hit.

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

That number is almost certain to grow, however, once 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. Dunleavy has vetoed $511,000 in funding that the city government was counting on.

"It does appear as though we'll be able to accommodate these changes this fiscal year," said City Manager Erin Reinders. 

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, that means 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 that budgeting process and also with the level of services that we're able to provide," she said.

Among the 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 — and we do have grants to cover that — but everything's been tight for a number of years here," said Rodgers. "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.

As head of both the local campus and Sea Grant program, Melissa Good said that "things very much in the air," 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 do fear how we will sound and how we will bring Unalaska the local programming," said Adams. "That's why people use us and love us and turn the radio on and use the TV station. 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.

As community organizations have grappled with the state budget 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 state budget gap or pursue a full Permanent Fund dividend at the expense of so many public services.

Crane is the director Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence.

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

With that in mind, USAFV is preparing for a challenging fiscal year, even though the organization has level funding. Crane 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. By being flexible. We'll work with our community partners to make sure hopefully people aren't falling through the cracks."

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.