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Anchorage Assembly passes plan to allocate $51.6M in federal COVID-19 relief funding

Certification of school board race recounts also attracted public comment at Tuesday night meeting
A special meeting of the Anchorage Assembly takes place on May 18, 2021.
A special meeting of the Anchorage Assembly takes place on May 18, 2021.(KTUU)
Published: May. 18, 2021 at 10:09 PM AKDT|Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 1:39 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Tuesday night’s special meeting of the Anchorage Assembly included two major topics of discussion: the certification of two Anchorage School Board race recounts and the allocation of more than $51 million in federal funding via the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The body eventually passed an amended version of its resolution – in a 7-3 vote – allocating those federal funding dollars.

First up, however, was the question of certifying the results of recounts in two races for the Anchorage School Board, which drew concern from most of those attending the meeting to testify. Other speakers expressed gratitude for the municipality’s work this election season.

The results of recounts for the races for seat B and seat E on the school board were left uncertified Tuesday because the Anchorage Election Commission didn’t officially adopt its ballot report to present to the assembly during the commission’s meeting on Monday. The certification has been delayed to the assembly’s May 25 meeting so that the commission can meet again on Friday to officially adopt its report.

However, if testimony surrounding election certification and confidence was any indication of what was to come, the proposed allocation of tens of millions in federal aid to various causes across Anchorage was even more intense.

Resolution AR 2021-167 – which would appropriate local fiscal recovery funds – includes dozens of sections detailing where in Anchorage portions of $51.6 million should go. That amount is the first half of what the Municipality of Anchorage is set to receive in two tranches, beginning this May and eventually totaling more than $103 million over the course of the next 12 months.

The more than $100 million provided to Anchorage is the city’s portion of the federal $1.9 trillion relief bill finalized by the Biden Administration.

As part of the local resolution, there are smaller amounts listed for allocation. For example, the resolution includes $14,500 “made available to the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation to establish a user-friendly job search tool available to the public,” and $30,000, “available to fund business personal property tax relief to eligible taxpayers financially impacted by government orders.”

Most distributions, however, are in the six- to seven-figure range, with a municipality-provided chart detailing amounts, recipients, descriptions and who requested each allocation.

The resolution, as originally written, would allocate $1 million to expanded tourism marketing for Anchorage, $5 million for the University of Alaska Anchorage Fast Track Career Certificate program, and $3.75 million for city housing and homelessness supports, to name a few.

Louis Imbriani, who was first to testify on the resolution, was among the many who requested a postponement of a final decision.

“A lot of shuffling of money, reallocating of funds,” he said. “You can make smaller bills to address each individual sector ... transparency is key.”

Several others agreed with him, requesting public hearings and further public input on the resolution.

“I can see a lot of work has been put into it,” one meeting attendee said, “but we were not involved in that.”

Another woman expressed frustration over public notification and what she believed to be a lack of consideration for the assembly’s constituents.

Some also specifically questioned the role of the acting mayor, and why so much money would be allocated before a new mayor is named, as Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson will reprise her role as assembly chair and return Acting Chair Felix Rivera to regular member status on July 1.

The other prominent group of testifiers included people advocating for their causes, such as nonprofits or local programming, in search of further funding through the resolution.

A substitute version of the resolution was approved for consideration in a 9-0 vote Tuesday. Member Kameron Perez-Verdia noted some of the adjustments, including corrections to several figures and a couple of changes in wording within some of the funding allocation documents.

Perez-Verdia, who also said he expected funds would be deposited into the municipal account as soon as this week, was counted as absent in that vote that allowed for consideration. He said the plan was to start pushing the money out as early as next week if the resolution passes.

Members appeared split, however, on whether or not to expedite a decision on the resolution, and if that were to happen, whether to approve it.

“I think we should take our time and reevaluate some of these,” said Member Jamie Allard. “I’m willing to put other things on the back-burner ... so that we can get this passed. But if I can’t vet all these items, then I’m going to have to be a solid no as well.”

Member Christopher Constant said the argument that more time should be taken to consider more interests is “an infinite loop that ends up to zero.”

“We have, in my opinion, had a broad conversation with the public, we’ve heard tons of different proposals come at us,” he said. “At some point, we have to make the decision and go. Otherwise, we dilute everything to nothing.”

Assembly members worked through more than half a dozen amendments to the substitute resolution. Later, a formal motion to postpone the vote to a meeting in early June failed, as did an amendment to that motion that requested an extension to next week’s regular meeting instead of next month.

Assembly Member Crystal Kennedy, who called taking an extra week or two to review and decide on the resolution “more reasonable,” added that she hoped the body would pause before making such a big decision on money that would go to directly benefit the people of the Municipality of Anchorage.

“Take a deep breath,” she said, “and say, ‘We’re gonna do this right, we’re gonna do this well, and we’re gonna take the time to do it.’”

Several members, however, maintained the public had been given ample time to consider the resolution, that the assembly overall had given extensive attention to the proposal via work sessions and other meetings to determine the best path forward, and that the funding needs to go out as soon as is manageable in order to help residents as quickly as possible.

“We took too long to pass it, and it took way too long to administer,” said Member Forrest Dunbar of last year’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding allocations. “So, I want to get this (American Rescue Plan Act) money into the hands of the people of Anchorage quickly.”

Whether or not it agreed in entirety with all facets of the amended version of the resolution, the assembly eventually voted in favor of passing it, with only three members voting against.

A few members of the public also came up to give final notes on the decision after it was made Tuesday night, with some expressing approval of the allocation setup, and others noting their disappointment at the vote.

As for upcoming meetings, an election commission meeting is set for this coming Friday. The next regular meeting of the assembly will take place on Tuesday, May 25. The current agenda for the latter meeting can be found on the Municipality of Anchorage website.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information and quotes.

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