Tribe pays off Wellness Center loan 16 years early
The tide indeed is coming back in.
As planning and construction for the Dena’ina Wellness Center progressed, the tribe focused on the concept of Naqantugheduł, the idea that the tide has turned, and with it, a return of the culture that had been eroded over the years.
Friday, July 27 marked a major milestone for the tribe as the Wellness Center construction loan was paid off in full. Tribal Council Chairperson Wayne Wilson Jr. and Treasurer Clinton Lageson signed a check for $9,462,511.19, covering the remaining balance on the $11 million loan.
“It’s an awesome day,” Wilson said after he and Lageson hand-delivered the check to First National Bank Alaska’s Kenai branch.
“I think it’s exciting that we’re paying off something we didn’t even envision being able to do when we started the project,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that when construction of the Wellness Center was under way, some wondered if this day would ever come – never mind that it came just four years in to the 20-year term of the loan.
“We had a strong vision, strong goals and a great plan, but there was still some doubt,” Wilson said.
Wilson emphasized that it has been a group effort for the tribe to be in a position to pay off the loan while still maintaining a healthy savings account. The early payoff will save the tribe $3.8 million in interest.
Wilson said one of the tribe’s concerns is sustaining services at the Wellness Center after the Indian Health Service Joint Venture expires. Joint Venture funding covers staffing costs for the Wellness Center for 20 years. The tribal council has made a motion to put the $834,829 per year that would have gone toward paying the loan into an account to be used for future projects which will continue to fund Wellness Center operations when the time comes.
“We need to be saving it for what happens in the future,” Wilson said.
As part of the Indian Health Service Joint Venture, Kenaitze Indian Tribe is wholly responsible for providing the facility. Because of this, Wilson explained, the Director of Financial Services and the Finance Committee have been exploring ways to manage the tribe’s assets that best maintain programs and services by passing a Treasury Policy, committing to long-term planning goals, and paying off the loan.
A number of factors allowed the tribe to be able to pay off the loan early. The tribe saw savings from careful budgeting, experienced greater-than-anticipated revenue growth, and favorable federal contract negotiations. Other factors include an increase in Medicaid payments, as well as an increase in other insurance payments.
Construction costs for the Wellness Center were just shy of $30 million; furnishing and equipping the facility was another $4 million. The tribe received a $20 million grant from the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. Contributions also came from the Rasmuson Foundation, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, Cook Inlet Region Inc., and The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.
The Dena’ina Wellness Center had been decades in the making, with planning and design of the building beginning in earnest in 2009. In 2011, the proposal put forth by the tribe was one of three nationwide to receive a highly competitive Indian Health Service Joint Venture Award.
The tribe acquired the necessary parcels in Old Town Kenai, a significant location as it was an original village site of the Kahtnuht’ana Dena’ina people.
Construction on the 52,000-square-foot building began in fiscal year 2011, and the Dena’ina Wellness Center began seeing un’ina in April 2014. The tribe marked the opening with three days of celebrations in June 2014.