The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Commissioners leery of property acquisition

Disbanding congregation offers building for county use


September 7, 2017

With their members aging and dwindling, the congregation of the Cathlamet United Church of Christ this spring started looking for an organization to take over ownership and operation of their building.

They ended up agreeing by an 8-0 vote to offer the property to Wahkiakum County for use by Health and Human Services (H&HS).

H&HS administrators like the offer, but when they presented a proposal on Tuesday to go through with the proposal, the board of county commissioners expressed concerns about the financial aspects of long-term ownership of the building. Commissioners said they wanted more information before they'd agree to the deal.

Mental Health Services Coordinator Chris Holmes said the church isn't charging for the building, only asking that the county pay legal fees and continue hosting the AA and Senior Meals programs that use the facility.

Holmes said department staff envision moving mental health programs now housed in the Johnson House to the church building and also housing services that serve youth and schools.

Holmes said the new facility would allow the department to pursue grant funding for more programs benefitting youth.

The building was constructed in the early 1960's, and Holmes said an inspection revealed no major problems.

Commissioners raised other concerns.

Commissioner Dan Cothren commented that the county has buildings they want to get rid of, and he questions the wisdom of taking on more maintenance responsibility.

Commissioner Blair Brady raised two concerns.

First, the high ceiling in the sanctuary would make that room expensive to heat; they would need to install a drop ceiling to lower costs.

Second, he is concerned about the county's long range financial position. The county is relying on a $1 million appropriation in the state's Capital Budget, but it appears that won't pass this year because of disagreements between the governor and the legislature, and it may well not pass out of the 2018 legislative session.

"That puts us in a very bad position," he said.

Commissioner Mike Backman disagreed with his colleagues.

"I think it will be a strong asset for the county," he said. "We need to look at what other uses it can be used for."

Commissioners said they wanted more information on the issues they'd expressed before moving ahead.

The draft acquisition agreement calls for a 10-year period before the county could sell the property; could that be shorter, they asked.

Tim Hanigan, attorney for the congregation, replied that the document is only a draft, and a shorter period could be considered, and also a clause requiring the building go to another service organization if the county bows out.

Backman also suggested H&HS consider involving more partners in service.

Public Works Director Chuck Beyer also raised the issue of zoning--would the town allow a new commercial use where the original use was for a church, which is allowed in a residential zone.

"Cost, that's the major concern," Brady said.


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