Washougal renews lease for social services center

Councilman Jon Russell questions "sweetheart deal"

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Washougal Mayor Sean Guard was called upon three times to break ties during the City Council meeting last night, and all of his votes were regarding the city’s agreements with the Children’s Home Society of Washington.

Guard voted for the expenditure of $7,500 in a professional service agreement with the CHSW to coordinate the facility and services for children and families in the East County Social Services Center, at 1702 “C” St., across from City Hall, in downtown Washougal.

The scope of services provided by the Children’s Home Society includes providing sufficient staff to coordinate programs at the center, responding to requests from residents for assistance, and soliciting donations and grants to pay for additional programs and activities.

Guard also voted for the renewal of a $1 annual lease agreement with the Children’s Home Society to use the social services center.

The city is responsible for the heating and cooling system, all electrical systems in the building, providing janitorial services, parking lot cleaning and maintenance, landscaping, garbage and recycling collection, elevator maintenance and licensing, and routine maintenance and repairs of the building.

The city is also responsible for all utility costs associated with electrical, gas and water, while the Children’s Home Society is responsible for costs associated with phones and the water filter system maintenance and repair.

City Councilman Jon Russell said he had “heartburn” about the agreements, because city staff are “scrunched” in City Hall while they could occupy the social services building.

He wondered what the fair market value would be to rent the 5,500 square foot building.

“This is a sweetheart deal,” Russell said. “It is not a good deal for the city.”

He also mentioned a concern that the services provided by the Children’s Home Society are offered by other non-profit organizations throughout the local area. Russell’s examples included the Salvation Army, Inter-Faith Treasure House, Lions Clubs and local churches.

“$1 a year – a lot of non profits are drooling for that,” he said.

After saying “fair market value only makes sense if you can rent it,” Councilman Paul Greenlee referred to the amount of vacant space available to lease in the Washougal Town Square development.

Staff in the social services building provide emergency food and clothing, access to computers and family support.

“The building is a tremendous service for people in need,” Greenlee said. “We’re getting quite a bargain.”

Councilman Dave Shoemaker said it is not a mission of the city to provide social services.

“It is an act of generosity, forbidden in the state constitution,” he said. “It is a gifting of public funds.”

City Attorney Don English said the city can use public funds for the betterment of citizens in need.

City Finance Director Jennifer Forsberg said a 2005 Community Development Block Grant awarded to the city to pay for renovations of the social services center included a 20-year clause that requires the building be used to benefit social services.

Russell’s motion to table the professional services agreement until it could be discussed further in January was not approved by the majority. Rod Morris, Molly Coston and Greenlee voted not to table it, and Guard broke the tie.

The second mayoral tiebreaker occurred when Morris, Coston and Greenlee voted for the agreement, and Russell, Shoemaker and Michael Delavar voted against it.

The $1 annual lease was approved by Coston, Greenlee and Morris, and rejected by Russell, Shoemaker and Delavar. Guard broke that tie as well, in favor of the lease.

Additional discussions regarding the Children’s Home Society are expected to occur as early as the City Council’s next workshop Monday, Jan. 10, at 5:30 p.m., in the council chambers at City Hall, 1701 “C” St.