Community Revenue Sharing amounts in Kenai drop again

KENAIFor the second year in a row, the amount of money available to 27 unincorporated communities in the Kenai Peninsula Borough through the state’s Community Revenue Sharing Program decreased.

Nearly two-thirds of the borough’s approximately 57,000 people live outside the borders of an incorporated city in communities like Kalifornsky Beach, Kasilof, Ninilchik, Fritz Creek and Lowell Point. The unincorporated communities have received varying amounts of cash from the state, disbursed by the borough, since 2008. Last year, each community received $18,922 to use for community purposes, such as funding new buildings or paying for services at community centers.

This year, the amount dropped by more than $170,000 across the borough, translating to more than $6,000 less for each community. Each community will receive $12,647, according to a memo to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly from borough Community and Fiscal Projects Manager Brenda Ahlberg.

The decrease is far from a surprise. Residents in the unincorporated communities have known for several years that the grant amounts were decreasing and expected to peter out and have had warning to make plans to live without the funds, if it comes down to it.

“I think what has helped was that in the public meetings every year, we have discussed the possibility of that sunsetting,” Ahlberg said. “It hasn’t really been a surprise to the communities. But at the same time, there has been some wait-and-see. For some communities, that’s a significant decrease.”

The Legislature approves appropriations from the Community Revenue Sharing Fund each year from an existing fund, supplemented by oil and gas royalty revenues. After the steep decrease in oil prices and production, the fund size has dwindled, and the Legislature has not made any new appropriations to the fund for the last two years. Currently, the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development expects the last payouts for the Community Revenue Sharing program to come next year.

Effective Jan. 1, the program’s name will change from Community Revenue Sharing to the Community Assistance Program after Gov. Bill Walker signed Senate Bill 210 into law. The new bill also halves the amount the Legislature may appropriate to either $30 million or one-third of the amount that, when added to the fund balance on June 30 of the previous fiscal year, equals $90 million. It also dropped the minimum fund balance for the Legislature to distribute funds by three-quarters to $15 million.

“The program was established under the principle that when oil revenues were high, the wealth would be shared with local communities,” wrote senators Anna MacKinnon (R-Eagle River) and Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks) in their joint sponsor’s statement for SB 210. “Senate Bill 201 proposes changes to the program, allowing for communities to continue to receive assistance, while establishing a structure to phase out the program as originally intended when created.”

Organizations like the Sterling Senior Center will be affected by the loss of funding. Michelle Walker, the senior center’s director, said although the decrease would affect operations, at least the community had warning.

“It’s been happening all over the state,” she said. “We kind of planned for it. We do what we can to get donations so we can get community support so we can plan activities … It’s just another one of those things that you kind of roll with the punches and hope for the best.”

Other organizations depend on the funds for operations to deliver public services, like the Anchor Point Public Library — which received $8,000 of the community’s disbursement in 2015 — and the Moose Pass Volunteer Fire Company, which received more than $14,000 of the community’s 2015 amount.

The Anchor Point Library uses the funds for unusual purchases, like a DVD cleaner to prolong the life of some of the library’s movies, as well as some operation expenses, said Lora Craig, the library director. But like the Sterling Senior Center, Craig said the community knows it could not depend on the funds long-term.

“It’s not something we count on, but it’s something helpful every year,” she said.

The library pulls together support from Alaska State Library grants, community support and proceeds from selling books on LibraryConsignment.com, where libraries can sell used stock for a portion of the proceeds. Craig said the sales bring in about $200 each month for the library.

In the future, the Sterling Senior Center will look for additional support from the community as well as grant support. Members, who can be anyone in the U.S. as long as they meet the age requirements, pay an annual fee that helps sustain the center as well, and organizations like the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank help support some of the services here, Walker said.

“We have a lot of great members that make a lot of great donations,” she said. “You just try to make do with whatever you get.”

Ahlberg said she helps unincorporated communities apply for grants as well to fund some of their services.

“If they have a specific need that I may know of a grant program that they may be eligible for, most certainly, I give them that information,” she said. “As long as they have the information, I’m able to help them. It’s a courtesy thing I offer to our unincorporated communities.”

• Elizabeth Earl is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion and can be reached at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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