Council begins process to accept CARES Act money

May 27, 2020

Credit City of Homer

Last week the Alaska State Legislature met briefly to appropriate CARES Act funds, the federal pass-through money approved by congress to help alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and last night, the Homer City Council met to take the first step to accept its nearly $8 million portion of those funds.
    In introducing the ordinance accepting the funds, the city is taking responsibility for their proper use, prompting Council member Rachel Lord to suggest a substitute.
    “I am not comfortable appropriating this much money without, I think, what is a responsible level of detail that needs to be fleshed out as part of the ordinance. And I think we also need clarifying language that really logically lays out the determination of necessity by the government entity, which is us, because we are liable for this money,” Lord said. “I know we can get there. I don't think it's a stretch. But it does need to be within the language of this legislation.”
    One change she would like to make is to include direct language about helping small businesses in the ordinance, not just in a follow-up spending resolution. Council member Donna Aderhold agreed, saying it still needs to be defined.
    “The first thing that I really focused in on was that we're talking about a small business grant program. We haven't defined what a small business is. We're saying that we're going to distribute equally, but we haven't decided what that equal number is. So there's, I think there are definitely quite a number of details that need to be fleshed out, whether they're in an ordinance or a resolution that can be debated. But to me, if you know, if you're going to have all the information, it needs to be available at the same time,” Aderhold said. “So if we needed a resolution to go with the ordinance, the resolution should have been paired with this ordinance and follow the ordinance. So I will definitely be looking for some more detail and very happy to work on that.”
    The funds will come in three payments, with roughly half in the first. Lord suggested a work session to formulate a plan to designate where the funds go.
    “Ideally, we would have a large plan that is saying, 'Okay, here's $7.8 million. Here's a plan. It's a three-part plan. Phase one is this, phase two is this, phase three is that. This is how they interplay. This is how they impact the community. This is how they help,'” Lord said. “And everything we do has to be tied to that necessity. And it has to be tied to the COVID response and the economic fallout from that response. And so that is incumbent upon us as a body to make sure that that is crystal clear.”
    Mayor Ken Castner did not disagree, but added that planning for use of the funds has been on-going since the crisis began.
    “The planning effort has gone way beyond the borders of Homer. I mean, KPEDD, the economic development district has been really involved in it. Larry Persily representing the City of Kenai, has inquired as to where we're going. They're trying to do the similar sort of thing. I think a lot of the communities around the state are trying to figure out how best to apply the funds to do the maximum amount of good for each community.”
    The ordinance accepting the federal CARES Act money was successfully introduced, and will be up for a public hearing at the Council’s June 8 regular meeting.