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

County accepts donation of church property


October 12, 2017

Wahkiakum County commissioners agreed Tuesday to accept the donation of the Cathlamet United Church of Christ (UCC) property.

Down to only eight members, the UCC congregation in May voted to donate its church building and adjacent parsonage free of charge to Wahkiakum Health and Human Services (H&HS).

"We sent out feelers, and three parties responded," said congregation member Lois Nelson. "Two gave proposals. We thought it over and voted to offer it to Health and Human Services because it would be most benefit to the most people.

"It's a wonderful building; it has lots of space; it's handicapped accessible.

"You have to admit the price is right."

The congregation's only stipulations are that a senior meals program and Alcoholics Anonymous groups be allowed to continue use of the facility.

[Disclosure: Lois Nelson is the mother of Eagle publisher Rick Nelson.]

H&HS Deputy Director Chris Holmes said the department plans to move some of its mental health programs to the facility and expand programs for youth and the community.

Holmes reviewed concerns which county commissioners expressed a few weeks previously when presented with the proposal.

In regard to zoning and parking requirements, Holmes said the Wahkiakum School District will dedicate a portion of their parking lot to the county to satisfy the town's off street parking requirement. When consulted, town officials said they would very likely consider the county's planned uses to be appropriate uses of the property and qualify for a conditional use permit.

Inspections by county officials found no major problems with the buildings; fire sprinklers aren't needed; and asbestos and lead paint are present but not friable or exposed.

As for operating costs, Holmes said they should be largely covered by the program's revenues. Also, they plan to move programs out of the Johnson House, so they won't be spending money on that facility. The Johnson House, he added, is an old, two story building with handicapped access problems.

"Even though we've put $10-15,000 in to it to improve handicapped access, it's still marginal," Holmes said. "A lot of our clients can't make it up the narrow stairs (to the second floor), so it's of limited use for us."

Holmes said H&HS would use the church facility for some mental health programs, programs such as exercise and cooking and nutrition that are too large for down town community center, programs for youth, including the school mental health therapist who has a hard time finding confidential, safe space to meet with clients in school buildings.

Acquisition of the facility will also allow the department to meet requirements of a 21st Century Grant, Holmes said, which would provide a cost savings by supporting staff and renovation costs.

Commissioners found their concerns largely allayed.

"The only thing wrong for the county is the absorbtion of more property," said Commissioner Dan Cothren. "If your funding runs out . . .

"The bright side is to get the Johnson House back on the tax rolls."

Holmes replied that the county, by accepting the property, is bound to use it for at least five years; after that it would walk away.

Commission Chair Blair Brady suggested there might be room for an office of the county Noxious Weed Control Program at the facility.

Holmes replied that would be problematic, for their program funding contracts require the facilities be used only for the purposes outlined in the contracts. However, perhaps the parsonage garage could be renovated and turned into an office for the weed program.

"My thing is . . . I want to see those partners," said Commissioner Mike Backman. "I want to see it used for the county as much as possible."

"I think we've demonstrated over the past 25 years that that's what we do," Holmes replied.

After a bit more discussion, Backman moved to accept the donated property; Cothren seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.

Several citizens spoke in favor of the acquisition.

Community center volunteer Mike Passmore presented statistics showing increasing use of the center, which doesn't have enough space for all programs. He encouraged commissioners to support the acquisition.

Craig Brown, another center volunteer, echoed Passmore's comments and said volunteers would support the new facility.

"It's not going to be a burden on the county," he said.

Suzanne Holmes, who serves on the county's mental health advisory board and represents the county on the regional Great Rivers Behavioral Health Organization, supported the acquisition.

"We will be meeting people's needs earlier in the process," she said.

Local resident Beth Struntz said she will be able to use and enjoy the large facility for her Girl Scout troop.

"Thank you for doing this," said Sue Cameron, recently retired H&HS director. "Now I can go off into the sunset."


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