When the world shifted to pandemic conditions, life was significantly altered for those supporting the good deeds stemming from the Rainier Foothills Wellness Foundation.
Explaining those changes was Jay Thomas, executive director at the Foundation, who reported Sept. 14 during the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Enumclaw City Council.
“COVID really changed life for us, almost overnight,” Thomas said, using his opening remarks to highlight the community’s response during a time of crisis.
“Over the last several months we have seen gigantic expressions of love and support for local neighbors,” he said. Thomas offered a special thanks to Mayor Jan Molinaro, who launched the Clips for a Cause program; because the community came through with more than $20,000 in donations to the Foundation and Plateau Outreach Ministries, Molinaro was subjected to having both his head and goatee shaved.
The Clips for a Cause campaign, Thomas said, “gave those who can give an opportunity to get involved.”
Thomas highlighted some of the Foundation programs and put them in context of a world that has left kids away from classrooms and certain vulnerable citizens away from social settings or needed services.
Since school was dismissed in the spring, Thomas said, the Foundation has provided more than 4,245 sacks of food to Enumclaw School District students, each one designed to last a weekend. That pushed the Foundation’s total to 10,287 bags for the school year.
When it comes to the hot meals for senior citizens program, operated in partnership with the Enumclaw Senior Center, there have been 13,000 meals delivered since April. Thomas specifically noted the effort of Jobyna Nickum, who heads the senior center. “She opened her doors and we were able to get together rather quickly and work out a plan,” he said.
The Full Bellies Program has been providing about 90 meals a week since moving to a drive-through operation, Thomas said. A new development is a ”slight increase” in participation by Enumclaw’s homeless population.
Fluctuating greatly since the COVID-19 outbreak, he noted, is the demand placed on the Foundation’s popular Care Van operation. In February, before the pandemic really came to light, drivers transported senior citizens to 152 non-emergency appointments. That figure plummeted to just 60 in May but bounced back to 174 in August.
Lesser known is the Foundation’s connection with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters operation. The partnership is still new to the Plateau, but has linked six middle school students with mentors in the community. Those individual connections have continued during pandemic conditions, Thomas said, adding that there have been virtual meetings and experiences.
While impacting day-to-day operations at the Rainier Foothills Wellness Foundation, the ongoing health concerns also are hitting the operating in the pocketbook. Thomas explained that the organization’s largest fundraising effort of the year, Holiday Fantasy, will not be an in-person event this year.
Traditionally hosted in early December, the special night includes dinner and both silent and live auctions, all staged at Emerald Downs in Auburn. Thomas said this year’s Holiday Fantasy is planned for the evening of Dec. 4 and there will still be silent and live auctions, but everything will be a virtual experience, conducted online.
Adding a positive twist, Thomas said the Foundation has already partnered with an organization adept at conducting online auctions.
“One thing we realized is that the opportunity and the capacity for increased revenue is actually there, if we do it right,” he said.
POSSIBLE TAX EXEMPTION
The council heard from Chris Passinetti, the city’s community development director, who explained a possible tax exemption for multi-family housing operations.
Passinetti said a suggested tax break can extend to either eight or 12 years and could benefit anyone rehabilitating an existing structure or building something new. The impetus behind the legislation, he said, is to encourage additional multi-family construction, including affordable housing.
The topic was first reviewed by the council’s Community and Economic Development Committee, which forwarded the concept for full council review.
Passinetti said the city’s Municipal Code encourages multi-family housing, and only allows tax exemptions on buildings, not on the land, so the city would still collect some property tax revenue.
He said the proposal could be taken to the city’s Planning Commission for a recommendation, to be placed on the commission’s 2021 schedule.
“There’s a huge need for affordable housing,” said Councilman Tony Binion, who works in the housing industry. The need is nationwide, he added, and certainly exists across Western Washington.
“I’m definitely for this,” Binion said, noting that Enumclaw presently does not have a great inventory of multi-family options.
Councilman Beau Chevassus took a different route. While emphasizing his support for affordable housing, he suggested that the process be left in the hands of professional developers, without enticement from the city.
Others added to the discussion and, in the end, it was decided to forward the issue to the Planning Commission’s 2021 work schedule.
LANDMARK STATUS FOR CITY HALL?
Molinaro updated the council on the process of seeking “landmark” status for Enumclaw City Hall.
The mayor noted the timing is significant, since the Griffin Avenue building will turn 100 years old next year. He also noted the design is iconic, modeled on Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
He said the goal is to use “landmark” status when applying for grants that could help maintain the exterior of the brick building.
MORE ITEMS ON THE AGENDA
In other action during their Sept. 14 session, members of the Enumclaw City Council:
• Closed the books on a project that saw improvements made to the parking lot at the Enumclaw Aquatic Center.
The project, with a price tag of slightly more than $77,000, was funded by a grant from King County.
The contractor, J.R. Iddings Inc., completed a summertime project that involved grinding a overlaying the existing asphalt lot; removing concrete and replacing concrete curb and sidewalk; adding ramps in accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act; and adding striping a marking.
• Awarded bids for work to be done on two city projects.
Trinity Construction landed the contract to repair a building used to store pipe for the city’s natural gas system. The council had authorized $77,000 for the work and Trinity’s bid came in at $69,568.
The building has suffered “severe water damage resulting in rotting wall studs,” according to a memo provided to the council. The coming work is expected to extend the building’s life for at least 10 years. The repair project will start in late September and be completed in November.
A more expensive project calls for an irrigation system at Garrett Park.
The city estimated the cost would be $140,494, called for bidders and received five responses. The contract was awarded to Season LLC, which offered to do the work for a bit more than $119,000. That was significantly below the No. 2 bidder’s offer of $179,000.
It is estimated that work on the park will be finished by the end of October.
• Heard Molinaro read a proclamation honoring the 911 system and those who make 911 an efficient tool when the public is in need. Specifically, the proclamation noted Sept. 11 as “911 Day” in the city.
The proclamation was handed over to Police Chief Bob Huebler.
• Appointed two citizens to posts on volunteer organizations. Haley Ashland was named to the Position 5 seat on the Enumclaw Arts Commission, filling a term that expires Dec. 31, 2022. Leandra Usborne fills the Position 6 seat on the Planning Commission, a term that concludes with the close of 2021.
• Were reminded that one more Thursday remains for the Enumclaw Plateau Farmers Market. The open-air venue operates every Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. on Kasey Kahne Drive, running north from Griffin Avenue. The last day will be tomorrow, Sept. 24.