Blue Shibler, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Association for the Education of Young Children (center), Emily Thompson, Parents As Teachers coordinator for the organization (left) and Nikki Love, Community Engagement and ROCK Juneau Coordinator for AEYC (right) address the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee on Wednesday in the Assembly Chambers in City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Blue Shibler, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Association for the Education of Young Children (center), Emily Thompson, Parents As Teachers coordinator for the organization (left) and Nikki Love, Community Engagement and ROCK Juneau Coordinator for AEYC (right) address the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee on Wednesday in the Assembly Chambers in City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Community respite funds get serious scrutiny

Glory Hall funds put on hold, heating assistance and park improvements get the OK.

Relatively small line items in next year’s proposed City and Borough of Juneau budget were under a microscope on Wednesday night.

As a result, $150,000 The Glory Hall is counting on for homeless services is on hold for now, a nonprofit heating assistance and efficiency program is getting an extra $140,000 to ensure it can use $2.4 million in federal grants, and an extra $375,000 is being allocated for lights and other improvements to two parks in low-income neighborhoods.

Various funding for local organizations providing cultural programs, community grants, children’s services, businesses and other quality-of-life services were presented to the Juneau Assembly’s Finance Committee on Wednesday as part of the review process for the fiscal 2023 city budget that must be approved by June 15.

[City faces a big unexpected loss, but a bigger unexpected gain]

While most items presented during the review stage of the committee’s process are being treated as “information items” subject to the normal final approval process by the committee and subsequent consideration by the assembly, some are being placed on an “action” list for separate scrutiny by city officials involved in the budgeting process.

Among those put on the action list Wednesday is the $150,000 designated for The Glory Hall through the Juneau Community Foundation, which awards annual social service grants to a wide variety of local entities. The homeless program is already receiving a $90,000 allocation, but the additional amount is extra assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic that has been awarded the past two years.

“I thought that was a one-time thing — that we did twice, by the way,” Mayor Beth Weldon said.

She proposed removing the $150,000, but Assembly member Michelle Bonnet Hale convinced the committee to hold off while the impact of that cut to The Glory Hall is determined.

“I certainly didn’t plan we would be taking actions like this at tonight’s meeting,” she said. “I doubt the Glory Hall director would be planning that as well.”

Assembly members were more enthusiastic about providing an extra $140,000 in operating support to Alaska Heat Smart, which since 2020 has provided heat pumps and energy efficiency to more than 500 Juneau homeowners and businesses. Steve Behnke, the organization’s president, said demand for services doubled in 2022 compared to 2021 and $2.4 million in federal grant money was recently awarded to install heating pumps in 160 low-income homes.

The extra city funding will ensure the installations and administration of the program goes smoothly since, among other things, the federal funding from the Housing and Urban Development Healthy Homes grant is a “reimbursement grant” paid out as expenses for work performed are submitted, Behnke said.

“The fact they got $2 million in grants and then $400,000 to administer these grants, I’m all in,” Weldon said.

The committee also gave its approval for $75,000 in upgrades to Jackie Renninger Park, where the Pipeline Skate Park is located, and $300,000 for lighting as part of the upcoming playground replacement project at Sigoowu Ye Park in Lemon Creek.

“The problem with this park is there’s no lighting so you can’t use it when it starts to get dusk, and it also has a little bit of a vandalism and trash problem,” Weldon said, referring to Lemon Creek’s only city park. She said she’s a bit surprised at the amount of $300,000 request, but “that’s just the cost.”

Some reservations were expressed by CBJ Assembly members about the specifics of the lighting.

“Sometimes when lights are added to a neighborhood that can be detrimental because it’s happening to my neighborhood right now,” Hale said.

George Schaaf, the city’s parks and recreation director, said residents in the neighborhood have asked for the lighting for many years, and the department has become skilled at installing lower-level pedestrian lighting.

“I am confident we will be able to give the residents something that will make the park more usable and not objectionable,” he said.

The committee also voted to place on the action list a $16,000 increase — or about 10% — in next year’s grant to the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council. Weldon asked if perhaps some of the $696,000 in projected hotel tax funds can be used for that. City Finance Director Rogers said is it permissible since previous assemblies have approved allocations beyond the intended purpose of supporting Centennial Hall, but “I think at some point in the future that balance will be attractive for capital improvements” at the facility.

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

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