FNSB COVID

A sign at the Fairbanks North Star Borough assessor's office.

Almost $45 million in federal coronavirus relief money is bound for the city of Fairbanks, the city of North Pole and the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

Top municipal leaders are looking for ways to distribute the money to people, businesses and nonprofits to cover pandemic-related expenses.

“I’d like to see the entire borough allocation make it into the local economy,” Matt Cooper, presiding officer of the Borough Assembly, said in a text message.

The city of Fairbanks has formed a committee to distribute its allocation of about $16 million, has issued a request for proposals from financial institutions to help distribute the money and was one of nine Alaska communities to provide the state of Alaska, the pass-through agency, with a signed grant agreement.

Proposals are still being crafted at the borough, which is anticipating receiving almost $25 million, and North Pole, which has been allotted about $4 million.

“While many details still need to be sorted out, we want Fairbanks to know that we are working fast to get the money out into the community and to those who really need it most,” Teal Soden, communications director for the city of Fairbanks, said in an emailed answer to questions.

Borough Mayor Bryce Ward has requested to coordinate efforts with the two cities, while the Fairbanks City Council on Monday unanimously authorized Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly to distribute funds to businesses, organizations and individuals as “reimbursement grants,” according to a news release.

The money from Congress' CARES Act must be used for unexpected costs incurred because of the coronavirus pandemic and cannot replace lost revenues.

North Pole Mayor Mike Welch said he anticipates having a proposal for the North Pole City Council to review at its June 1 meeting. Welch wants to create a simple, noncompetitive process, he said.

“We’re going to make it fair and square, and we’re not going to make a lot of requirements,” he said.

The municipalities will keep some of the funds for administration and for their own coronavirus-related expenses, such as personal protective equipment and extra sanitation. The city of Fairbanks also incurred expenses related to quarantining people and telework, Soden said.

“Certain departments that had personnel who had to continue public contact, such as our police officers and paramedics, will likely have more of these expenses than other departments,” she wrote in an email. “Overall, it will be a very small percentage of the relief funds that will be used to cover direct city COVID-19 expenses.

“It’s our goal to get the vast majority of those funds into the community as there have been so many who have suffered substantial negative economic impact,” she wrote.

The city’s distribution committee will consist of Mike Meeks, city of Fairbanks chief of staff; Mike Sanders, city housing and homeless coordinator; Margarita Bell, Fairbanks’ chief financial officer; Jeremy Pletnikoff, a community member with experience with the federal Paycheck Protection Program; and Brenda Riley, executive director of the United Way of the Tanana Valley.

“The committee has a lot of work in front of them and will be working out the details on how to prioritize applications and what expenses should be reimbursed,” Soden wrote.

The panel will report to the city’s finance committee. The city is partnering with a financial institution to help distribute the money, according to the news release.

Guidelines to municipalities state that the money can be used for “medical expenses,” including testing and medical facilities, public health communication and expenses “to facilitate compliance with COVID-19-related public health measures.”

That includes “expenses for food delivery to residents, including, for example, senior citizens and other vulnerable populations …”

Expenses to improve telework capabilities for public employees and to cover their paid leave and expenses for executing public health measures in jails and homeless facilities are also reimbursable under the guidelines.

Ward wants to create a “substantial local economic support grant program,” he said.

“I am still open to a partnership with the city of Fairbanks should they choose to partner,” he wrote in an email.

Ward has also reached out to the North Pole mayor.

Combining distribution of the federal coronavirus aid would “reduce administrative burden and confusion for applicants,” Ward wrote.

He is working with three assembly members on legislation dealing with the federal aid that he aims to introduce on June 11.

“We are building the program on the principle of getting funding out to businesses and agencies quickly while ensuring all federal funds are properly accounted for according to the guidelines provided by the Treasury Department,” the mayor wrote.

The state of Alaska announced Friday that the first round of funding had gone out.

“As soon as the Legislature approved my administration’s allocation plan, it only took a few days to begin distributing the CARES Act funds to our communities statewide to aid in the economic impact caused by COVID-19,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a prepared statement.

The community distribution payments will go out in three rounds with the first payments sent as signed grant agreements are received, according to a news release from the governor’s office. The second and third payments can go out as early as June 1 and Oct. 1 as long as communities demonstrate they’ve distributed 80% of the prior payment.

Julie Anderson, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, said guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department allows grant programs for small businesses and nonprofits to be set up.

The COVID-19 outbreak in Interior Alaska has been mild compared with other areas of the United States. Three new cases have been reported in the Interior over the past two weeks, according to an online COVID-19 information hub maintained by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Of 89 total confirmed cases for the Interior, 83 are listed as recovered. Two deaths have been attributed to COVID-19. Of the four confirmed active cases, one is currently hospitalized. The data hub listed 4,438 total tests conducted in Interior Alaska.

On the economic side, at least five businesses — a camera store, a pet groomer, a bed and breakfast, a bar and a jewelry store — in Fairbanks have closed due to the pandemic, and the unemployment rate has reportedly tripled.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.