Enumclaw traditionally offers financial support to agencies doing good work in the community, a budgetary step that rarely produces much in the way of dissenting voices.
But that’s not the case this year – at least, not when it comes to the Enumclaw Youth Center.
The lights were turned off in mid-March at the Youth Center and the city-donated space has remained dark. And that has prompted city leaders to severely curtail the flow of public dollars to the Cole Street operation.
For background purposes, it should be noted that the city has maintained positive relations with the organization as it transitioned from Enumclaw Youth and Family Services to Auburn-based Nexus Youth and Families; that continued when, due to a 2019 transaction, the entire operation came under the ownership and operational umbrella of the YMCA of Greater Seattle.
The organization traditionally offered myriad opportunities for local youth, from outdoor adventures, mental health counseling, homework help, and simply being available as a hang-out spot.
When COVID-19 brought much of the Puget Sound region to a near-standstill, the Enumclaw Youth Center was among the casualties. A couple of outings took place before March but, once the pandemic hit, the operation was shuttered.
The Enumclaw City Council’s displeasure became very apparent during an Oct. 19 budget workshop, a crucial step along the way to creation of a city spending plan for the coming year. Highlighting the agenda that night were appearances by leaders of organizations hoping to receive city funding during 2021.
Even before the council became involved, the Youth Center was facing a cut. Mayor Jan Molinaro had stated his opinion that everyone should share in the financial burden brought about by COVID and, as part of that philosophy, had axed $15,000 from the Youth Center’s allocation. The operation received $70,000 from the city this year and Molinaro, in his proposed budget for 2021, had reduced the support to $55,000.
By the time the council was done, funding for youth services had been cut to $40,000. Perhaps more important was the council’s agreement that the money be earmarked generically for youth, not specifically for the YMCA.
The Oct. 19 discussion began with a presentation by Gary Hemminger, Youth Center director.
“I wish I had a good report,” he began. “I’m not excited to share what’s happened.” His explained how the process unfolded, how there had been an ongoing expectation that things would improve through the spring and summer and the center would again be offering services. He related how the YMCA had ordered the shutdown and how, during the health crisis, the center’s program director returned to the East Coast due to a family emergency.
In the end, Hemminger said, he was “not discouraged, but disappointed” with the way things played out in Enumclaw.
Council members questioned Hemminger but saved most of their criticism for later in the workshop after all the presenters had logged out of the Zoom session.
Councilman Anthony Wright kicked off the discussion, noting that other city-supported operations had focused on creative ways to continue and were transparent with the city. With regard to the Youth Center, he said, “I feel like six and a half months is a long time to go without a phone call, especially when you’re servicing the youth in our community.”
“When you walk up to that door and it basically says call this number and leave a voice mail, I have an issue with that, I struggle with that and I don’t know…how I rationalize appropriating $40,000.”
Wright didn’t waffle in his opposition to how things were handled. “I see no plan, I see no path forward,” he said. “I can’t support it this year. I can’t do it.”
Councilman Hoke Overland also expressed a willingness to slash funding to a greater extent than the mayor proposed. “What I heard tonight was unacceptable,” he said. “There are better uses for that money.”
Councilman Tony Binion was a bit more forgiving, cautioning against dramatic budget cuts “based on essentially a bad year.” The work historically provided by Hemminger and the Youth Center staff has been good, he said, noting a willingness to go along with Molinaro’s suggested $15,000 reduction.
“I want to give a little grace,” Binion said, while agreeing that ”we need to hold them a little more accountable with the funds.”
It was Councilman Chance LaFleur who pushed the notion of dropping the city’s 2021 support to $40,000, a move that eventually was supported with a council vote.
“I’ve been paying attention to who’s been helping this community and who hasn’t,” LaFleur said. While the Youth Center simply closed up shop, he said, other entities changed course “and came up with creative ways to fulfill their mission.”
The longest-tenured member of the council said he never wants to see a headline shouting “Council turns its back on youth of city,” but he proposed the new way of showing the city’s support.
His proposal, supported by a council vote, was to include $40,000 but leave a destination to be determined. It was noted that other community groups might have ideas for youth services that the council could consider.
OTHER GROUPS REPORT
As part of the City Council’s Oct. 19 budget workshop, representatives of five other organization made presentations.
Plateau Outreach Ministries: Director Elicia Smith-Marshall offered some dramatic numbers to show how POM has helped individuals and families during the pandemic. By the end of the third quarter of 2019 POM had provided $60,000 in emergency financial assistance, she said, adding that the corresponding figure for 2020 has more than doubled to $124,913.
The operation has made some changes, she said, including a drive-through food bank and the establishment of “private shopping” experiences at POM’s More Pennies From Heaven thrift shop.
Throughout it all, Smith-Marshall said, staff is there when the community is in need. “We work with them during some of the lowest times and celebrate with them during some of the good times,” she said, taking the opportunity to tout the dedication of the POM staff.
“To be honest our staff are truly heroes in my mind, to keep up with all the additional work,” she said.
In Molinaro’s proposed budget, POM has been earmarked for $28,000 for its Rental Assistance Program and $5,000 for its Utility Voucher Program.
Rainier Foothills Wellness Foundation: “Things have been tough,” admitted Suzanne Lewis, Foundation treasurer. The organization traditionally counts on volunteer labor, which has been curtailed due to health concerns, and a new director was coming aboard this week.
But through it all, Lewis said, the Foundation has continued to operate its popular programs like Neighbors Feeding Neighbors, senior meals, the Care Van and a backpack program that provides food for local students.
When asked about community support, Lewis said the response has been positive. She told how some arrived in the Foundation office to donate their federal stimulus checks. “I can’t say I was stunned or surprised because Enumclaw always does this kind of stuff,” she said. When times are tough the community just shows up.”
The Rainier Foothills Wellness Foundation has been identified for $10,000 in the tentative 2021 budget to help pay for meals delivered to senior citizens.
Enumclaw Food Bank: Assistant Director Althea Griffith explained how the demand has increased due to the pandemic and the center, which operates three days per week.
The organization has been identified for $3,000 in next year’s budget. The money would be used for food purchases, Griffith said, and could help feed as many as 600 families.
Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce: Executive Director Troy Couch explained how both the Chamber office and its Visitor Center had to close in March but instead focused on the future.
During a brief, recent retreat, he said, boosters looked at what events could be planned for next year, how they might be staged and how they could help fill the Chamber coffers.
“We are going to be fully functional next year, you don’t have to worry about that,” Couch said. Acknowledging his not-too-distant retirement, he added, “I feel very good about the future of the chamber.”
In the proposed budget for 2021, the Chamber is set to receive $8,000 to fund the Visitor Center operation, along with a 100 percent rent subsidy on the city-owned space.
Enumclaw Plateau Farmers Market: Market coordinator Liz Clark said the 2020 market season was, overall, a success. That, despite the fact that “COVID hit us hard in ways we couldn’t have anticipated.” Added to the mix was some cold, wet weather late in the season and heave smoke that blanketed the region for a time and kept many indoors.
“We basically got as lean as we could,” Clark said, thanking some “rock star volunteers” who stepped forward and provided more than 1,500 hours of labor.
Due to Health Department rules, the market saw fewer vendors participating. During the first month, vendors offering “non-essential” food or services were prohibited; throughout the season, vendors were unable to provided samples and no prepared food was allowed.
For the coming year, the proposed city budget includes $5,000 for the market.