City officials decided not to wait on Congress during a meeting Monday night, voting to plan to expend the entire $53 million in federal relief money given to the city as part of the CARES Act.
At a work meeting of the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole, members voted in favor of creating a plan to spend the rest of the city’s CARES Act money before the Dec. 30 deadline. There are bills with bipartisan support in Congress that could extend the deadline but Assembly members decided betting on Washington to act wasn’t a prudent decision.
“I don’t believe any cooperation in Congress is going to come to the rescue. We need to be saving ourselves,” said Assembly member Wade Bryson.
The question came up as Assembly members were being given a presentation on CARES money spending in the city. According to information provided by Finance Director Jeff Rogers, the city has already committed to spending $39.1 million of the money it received. Another $1.7 million is currently awaiting legislation, $10.6 million has planned allocations under consideration and $1.9 million remains to be disbursed.
Because the appropriation process takes time, if the Assembly wants to spend the money before the end of the year it will have to begin making plans soon, said Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski.
“We keep bumping up against ‘are we trying to spend it all or not?’,” Gladziszewski said at the meeting. “Do more of us think we need to spend it by Dec. 31? In which case we need to get it in the queue like, soon.”
Local lawmakers have expressed concern about the restrictions placed on CARES Act money ever since it was first appropriated in May. Mayors from across the state told the House Finance Committee in April limitations on the money, including the December deadline, would create problems for city budgets.
Some Assembly members, including Mayor Beth Weldon, said they didn’t like spending money just to spend money.
“We wanted to make sure if the money wasn’t spent on the nonprofit grants and the business sustainability grants, I would hope we wouldn’t get into a feeding frenzy at the end. I think we should still be cautious in how we spend the money,” Weldon said.
Most of the money that’s already been spent went to COVID-19-related emergency operations and small business grants. If the city wants to continue its testing operations at Juneau International Airport and the Hagevig Regional Fire Training Center and other COVID-19-related services into 2021, the city will have to pay for those using its own funds, Rogers said.
In a projection of potential COVID-19-related costs, Rogers estimated the city’s current COVID-19 services costing the city anywhere between $2.7-$6.2 million from January to June. Laboratory costs for analyzing test samples are currently paid for by the state, Rogers said, and estimates for lab costs can vary.
The Assembly voted 5-4 to proceed as if the CARES Act spending deadline is Dec. 30 and to create a plan on what to spend that money on. Assembly members Loren Jones, Greg Smith, Weldon and Gladziszewski voted against the motion. Assembly members Carole Triem, Alicia Hughes-Skandijs, Wade Bryson, Rob Edwardson and Michelle Bonnet Hale voted in favor of the motion.
With the question of the deadline settled, Assembly members discussed where the remaining funds would best be spent. There is still plenty of need in the community, Smith said, and there was no shortage of ideas of where the funds could go.
The Assembly Finance Committee will meet Wednesday, Sept. 30, Jones said, and depending on what kind of ordinances are introduced, an Assembly meeting could take place shortly thereafter.
“We’ve got a lot of good ideas out there, maybe, whether they’re actionable or not,” Jones said. “If we’re going to assume that there’s no extension we’re running out of time.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at @SegallJnuEmpire.