Commissioner seeks buyout for Labor Homes laundry deal

County Commissioner Greg Tompkins' business could be affected by a proposed shift in oversight of the development.

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WALLA WALLA COUNTY— A Walla Walla County commissioner is seeking more than $54,000 on behalf of his business from the Walla Walla County Housing Authority.

Commissioner Greg Tompkins is seeking a buyout for Integrity Laundry Solutions’ contract to provide laundry equipment at Farm Labor Homes, which is the sole property under the county housing agency.

County commissioners do not govern the organization but appoint board members and can decide whether to dissolve the Housing Authority, as its board members hope will happen. On Monday, Tompkins recused himself from discussion surrounding the issue and left the chambers.

Last week, county Housing Authority board President Kate Bobrow-Strain approached the commission to ask for its nod of approval to transfer the county authority’s assets and liabilities to the Walla Walla Housing Authority.

The idea is to allow low-income county residents access to the housing programs already in place at the city authority.

Farm Labor Homes, also known as the labor camp, was created for migratory farm workers in 1948, using leftover military barracks. The 46-acre property sits off Highway 11 and houses nearly 130 families.

A report done in 2010 by Walla Walla consultant Susan Newton detailed the neglect and mismanagement Farm Labor Homes had suffered from volunteer board members in place at the time. Her study found the houses were not regularly inspected or properly maintained. Finances were mishandled and staff training was ignored.

Those things added to a negative perception of the labor camp in the larger community, Newton said in the document.

Walla Walla Housing Authority partnered in 2010 with its county counterpart to build 60 new family units on the site with a combination of state and federal money. Finished and occupied in 2011, the Valle Lindo apartments contain a washer and dryer set per family unit.

The remaining 68 homes continue to use the Farm Labor Homes’ laundry room, equipped and serviced by Integrity Laundry Solutions, which has a 10-year contract in place, scheduled to end May 31, 2017.

Tompkins was also responsible for initial improvements and modifications, as well as safety and security requirements, in the laundry room building. He also pays insurance against property damage and injury to people or property as a result of the laundry equipment,

Under the contract, the Housing Authority traditionally received 45 percent of the gross income from the 12 commercial washing machines and six dryers.

In turn, the authority pays the building’s utilities, which cost just under $14,000 in 2012, including the propane used for the dryers. It must also maintain the structure of the facility, water heater, electrical and plumbing systems according to the contract terms, Bobrow-Strain said.

In July 2012, the county Housing Authority board voted to give Tompkins 76 percent of the gross income to compensate for the diminished flow of coins into the laundry room as half the development’s residents now have machines for their own use, she said.

The Farm Labor Home income from the laundry room was $20,250 in 2011, according to data that was available this morning, Bobrow-Strain said, “and the expenses were about $18,000.”

A “very rough estimate” for 2012 shows the labor camp is likely to have had less in income in 2012 than in expenses, but she doesn’t yet have the figures to know for sure, the board chair added.

The laundry room contract with Tompkins stated his company will make a monthly accounting to the housing board of the gross income, and that the board may have someone present at the time money is removed from the machines. To her knowledge, neither of those things have happened on her watch as board chair, Bobrow-Strain noted today.

At the March 11 county commission meeting, Tompkins and other commissioners asked Bobrow-Strain for a list of Farm Labor Homes’ assets and liabilities. Those assets belong only to the county Housing Authority, not to the county.

Bobrow-Strain, as president of the county authority’s board, has received two letters from Walla Walla attorney Michael Mitchell, representing Integrity Laundry Solutions. In the Feb. 21 letter, Mitchell proposed Bobrow-Strain and her board agree to buy out the laundry company’s contract.

An analysis done by Walla Walla accountant Daniel Tompkins — brother to Greg Tompkins — indicated the buyout figure would be at $54,420.64 as of March 1, Mitchell wrote. “My clients would be willing to accept this sum as a buyout of their lease. They would remove the equipment and keep same. They would be willing, however, to stay for a period of time, if that was the board’s desire.”

A follow-up letter, dated March 12, referenced the Feb. 21 letter and noted that Mitchell and his clients “assume the city does not want to inherit a lawsuit, as it were. Accordingly, I would like a response to my earlier letter.”

Mitchell was unavailable for comment by press time today.

Walla Walla County Housing Authority does not have cash available to meet the demand laid out by Mitchell. She is not sure where such a sum might come from, Bobrow-Strain said last week. She and her board members have added the laundry lease to the list of liabilities requested by county commissioners Tompkins, Perry Dozier and Jim Johnson, and included the correspondence from the attorney.

In the meantime, the plan is to transfer the situation to Walla Walla Housing Authority, along with all other assets and liabilities, Bobrow-Strain added.

The city Housing Authority has engaged legal counsel in anticipation of the discussion with Integrity Laundry Solutions landing on their doorstep, according to said Renee Rooker, executive director.

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