Good intentions have Walla Walla County so deep in a fiscal mess that climbing out will take time and cooperation. And even then the result could be a multimillion dollar debacle for taxpayers.
The county is deep in debt on the Community Service Center at 1520 Kelly Place off The Dalles Military Road that was purchased and remodeled in 2011. The county doesn’t have the cash on hand to make payments on the eight years left on the remainder of the 10-year loan of $1,658,722.
In addition, the county is renting space to five social service agencies — Blue Mountain Action Council, Helpline, Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, Rising Sun Clubhouse and Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health — at sweetheart rates. The mental health agency pays $1.25 a square foot to rent its space while the four others pay $1 a square foot. And they all have 10-year leases.
Complicating an already complex problem is that the county accepted a $1 million grant from the state Department of Commerce to buy and remodel the building. One of the requirements, however, is that the building be used to serve low- and moderate-income people for at least 10 years,
The money woes aren’t new, but they came to light only after the former Human Services Daryl Daugs resigned and Public Health Department Director Harvey Crowder took over management of both departments, merging it into one.
Crowder advised the Board of Commissioners in August 2013 the loan repayment schedule and lease rates did not add up. Total yearly costs projected for this year to house the agencies comes to $421,049, and rent equals $325,044, creating a $96,005 shortfall, according to information provided by Crowder.
The county commissioners have some difficult choices ahead and so, too, do those running the five social agencies. Those agencies, like it or not, are at risk of losing their office space.
Several scenarios could unfold in which the county and the agencies find a way to make operation of the Community Service Center pencil out.
For example, the five agencies must be open to renegotiating the lease agreement to reflect rent that is more reflective of the real market value. And the county should consider refinancing, perhaps extending the loan to 20 or even 30 years.
Those options are not pleasant, but neither is this mess.