City formalizes shelter utility grants

Board reshapes how city pays non-profits' sewer, water fees

Posted: Friday, January 30, 2009

For years, the Juneau Assembly has been crediting three nonprofit shelters in the area for thousands of dollars in sewer and water utility fees.

The peculiar and somewhat arbitrary financial assistance was the product of annual requests from AWARE, the Glory Hole and St. Vincent de Paul. Several officials said they didn't know when or how the tradition began, though a city advisory board was charged last year with reshaping how the utility money is doled out to make the process more fair.

Lawrence Lee Oldaker, chairman of the city's Social Services Advisory Board, said the process they came up with will "add a degree of equity, reduce the arbitrary nature of people coming in willy-nilly requesting funds."

On Wednesday, the city posted application forms that are styled after open competitive grant applications. The eligibility criteria were narrowly tailored to local nonprofits that offer "transitional overnight accommodations," a description that not surprisingly fits AWARE, the Glory Hole and St. Vincent de Paul.

Oldaker guessed that there were perhaps three additional local nonprofits in the area that fit the criteria. Up to $50,000 is available for the budget year beginning in July, which is up from $28,100 set aside for the water and sewer grants in the current budget year.

Angelica Lopez-Campos, a city accountant and staff liaison to the advisory board, said she doesn't know if there will be enough interest to give away all $50,000.

Historically, St. Vincent de Paul has been the grant's biggest beneficiary. Its homeless shelter generates about $12,000 in annual water and sewer fees, General Manager Dan Austin said. The shelter was serving about 50 families on Thursday.

Austin didn't know how his organization first received the sewer and water credits either, but said it predated his 12-year tenure.

"Now there's lots of other ways the city can help, but I've not been able to convince them yet," Austin said with a chuckle when asked why sewer and water fees were singled out.

Whatever the reason, the money is appreciated said Brenda Hewitt, president of United Way of Southeast Alaska and a member of the Social Services Advisory Board.

"It's not a huge pool of money, but every little bit helps," she said.

Oldaker said the sewer and water grant money is likely to be folded into the advisory board's general grant pool and distribution process for nonprofit social service agencies next year. That process runs on a two-year cycle, and 2009 is an off year.

• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail

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