Vice President Tyson Cox speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Vice President Tyson Cox speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Assembly adds 3 recipients to opioid grant awards

The grant program was created to distribute funds received by the borough through three nationwide settlement agreements

The Opioid Settlement Fund Grant Program, administered by the Kenai Peninsula Borough, will distribute grant awards to three additional recipients this year — for eight total — after approval by the borough assembly on Tuesday.

The grant program, per a memo included with the ordinance, was created to distribute funds received by the borough through three nationwide settlement agreements with manufacturers and distributors of opioids connected to the opioid epidemic.

The increase in the number of recipients comes after more money than anticipated was distributed to the borough, per the ordinance, and all eight recipients would receive the same amount of roughly $34,000 in grant funding.

Previous Clarion reporting says grants are distributed to eligible entities for use in opioid remediation activities including care, treatment and mitigation of the opioid epidemic’s effects. Opioid dispensing rates on the Kenai Peninsula were found to be consistently higher than the rest of the country between 2006 and 2020.

The ordinance approved by the group Tuesday originally would have simply expanded the number of recipients of the grant program from five to eight, but it was successfully amended by Vice President Tyson Cox to maintain the original five recipients and include new language saying that additional recipients can be approved by assembly ordinance on a case-by-case basis.

The amendment was passed with seven in favor and member Cindy Ecklund opposed. The ordinance passed without objection.

Though the ordinance describes a process for modifying the number of recipients in the future, members of the assembly and Borough Mayor Peter Micciche said they want to see the program more wholly reworked before its next iteration.

In presenting his amendment, Cox said it would address the need for this year, but he hopes come fall the program is modified to match “what the administration wants this whole program to look like.”

“We’ll have a different program, based on what we learned during this program, in the future,” Micciche said.

In meetings of the borough’s Finance Committee on Tuesday and on May 21, multiple members of the assembly expressed concerns about modifying this year’s awards after the program’s conclusion.

Assembly member Mike Tupper said in May that he wanted to see the grant amounts stabilized to prevent uncertainty to service providers and applicants.

“Right now we’re making changes to a program that people have already applied to,” he said.

Cox asked during the May committee meeting whether they shouldn’t just do another round of grants, and Micciche described Tuesday’s move as “a catchup,” getting more money more quickly into the hands of qualified providers.

“We do want to make sure that qualified providers that are actively practicing on the Kenai have the funding they need to, I will say, save lives,” Micciche said. “It literally is lifesaving treatment.”

During the Tuesday committee meeting, Cox questioned whether they should table the ordinance and get a “better version” of the program to vote on. Micciche reiterated his desire to see the program refined, but said that can happen “next time” and that seeing the funds released and put to use now is important.

“I don’t want $90,000 sitting in a bank instead of saving lives right now,” he said. “We have three entities in need, right now, that can go to work the moment this passes as we evaluate the best way going forward.”

During public testimony ahead of the ordinance’s passage, Tommy Glanton, chief executive officer of SeaView Mental Health in Seward, said that the “competitive process” of the grant program would be undermined by adding recipients after that process had concluded.

“To open it up as a special award to those three organizations, and allow them to change their proposals would be a really concerning prospect for me as someone who leads an organization that couldn’t operate without funding like this.”

The ordinance, supporting documents and a full recording of all three meetings can be found at kpb.legistar.com.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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