The City of Bethel has finished drafting an itemized budget for the $8.4 million in federal CARES Act Funding it received, which the city council still has to approve. The CARES budget includes $2 million in grants for Bethel businesses and non-profits that were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The details of the city’s $2 million in COVID grants for Bethel businesses and non-profits are still under development; details like when to apply, and how much money each organization can apply for. However, City Manager Vincenzo “Vinny” Corazza says that applicants won’t have to bend over backwards to prove they were impacted by the pandemic.
“The onus is not so heavy that, you know, small businesses, you know, maybe a one person shop, won't be so burdened that they need a whole accounting firm to justify it,” Corazza said.
Corazza said that the city is partnering with Bethel Community Services Foundation to administer the grants.
“Because they have a lot of experience managing grants,” Corazza said.
He said that the foundation and the city will finalize details for the program by the end of July, after the city council approves the CARES budget.
The biggest line item in the CARES budget is $3 million in payroll for firefighters and police officers. Those wages are already accounted for in the city’s normal operating budget. Although the CARES Act states that its funds cannot be used to pay for the city’s normal expenses, Alaska Municipal League Executive Director Nils Andreassen says that public safety payroll is an exception to that rule.
Corazza says that $3 million will either go into the city’s savings account, or the city could have a midyear budget modification. He said that in the last budgeting process, department heads requested a number of new positions that the city didn’t have the money for at the time.
“In a revisit, we will say ‘remember back in May, you had to make those tough decisions. But now we actually have this $3 million,’” Corazza said. “‘Would you like that to just go on a balance, or revisit some of those tough decisions that you were not able to make?’”
The remaining items include ideas Corazza has already floated, like lodging and transport for travelers quarantining between Anchorage and the villages, taxi coupons for Elders, and financial incentives for airport testing.
Corazza said that the airport testing incentives program is making new headway after the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation approached the city about coordinating with their effort. He said that the city plans to have a booth at the airport next week, and that the need for more testing is urgent.
“We just got another positive case,” Corazza said. “I'm like, ‘we gotta do something. This is 17 cases in our region. We got to get, at least, people to test or something.’”
He said that passengers arriving at the airport will get to choose a $25 gift card from many different businesses in Bethel.
He’s also planning on leaving almost $2 million that the city can hold for “unforeseen expenses,” with cases of COVID-19 climbing in the Y-K Delta and around the nation. Bethel City Council will take a first look at the CARES budget at its meeting on July 14.