Two Pierce County mayors say they’re upset that the Pierce County Council disregarded the conditions they and others imposed on a grant to a controversial homeless aid program in Puyallup.
The two mayors, John Hopkins of Puyallup and Debra Perry of Milton, were members of a homeless aid funding allocation committee that voted 5-1 to grant the New Hope Resources Center $75,000 if the center moved from its downtown Puyallup location.
In November, the County Council approved a budget that included that money for New Hope. The council, in amending the award to delete the requirement that New Hope move, said the allocation committee had acted “ultra vires,” or beyond the scope of its power.
Joyce McDonald, who at the time was the Pierce County councilwoman from the Puyallup area, said Tuesday that she proposed removing the requirement based on staff advice.
“I think our staff was right,” said McDonald, who was elected to the state House in November. “I think the committee’s job is to vote up or down, not to impose conditions.”
Jeff Cox, the council’s legal analyst, declined to comment on his advice to the council Tuesday.
County Council Chairman Doug Richardson said he agreed that the committee didn’t have the authority to put strings on the grant. He said the council is always free to make its own decisions and isn’t bound by an advisory committee’s wishes.
Perry, the Milton mayor, said she felt that her time on the committee was wasted if the county and its staff were unwilling to follow the committee’s findings.
“It’s extremely disheartening,” said Perry. “I’m tempted to quit the committee. I have plenty of issues to deal with where my opinion is valued.”
The seven-member county allocation committee, which includes elected officials and local government staffers, decides how to spend money from a $10 per document filing fee assessed by the state through county auditors. That fund, approved in 2005 by the Legislature, was designed to help fund efforts to reduce homelessness in Washington.
In September, the committee debated requiring New Hope to move out of downtown Puyallup after Hopkins said his main objection to the organization was its location.
New Hope is controversial in Puyallup, where some residents complain the homeless people who flock to New Hope commit crimes, use drugs and engage in inappropriate behavior near homes and businesses. The center, which provides lunch and referral services to the homeless, also has a dedicated legion of supporters who say the center has been treated unfairly.
Committee members said the relocation requirement was a compromise between the center’s opponents and supporters that helped garner the grant proposal enough votes to pass.
Hopkins said the County Council’s decision to override that compromise makes it clear the county expects the advisory committee to simply “rubber stamp” the recommendations of a screening committee made up of social service agency representatives. The screening committee had recommended funding the New Hope grant without conditions.
“I find it a little disturbing that we can only vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the grants without the ability to impose conditions,” Hopkins said.
The Puyallup mayor said he’s concerned because the county’s staff had told the committee members that they could impose conditions on the grants. If he had known that the council would strip that condition from New Hope’s grant, the advisory committee could have simply denied the grant, Hopkins said.
Paula Anderson, New Hope’s director, said the center is happy to have the financial help. The grant covers an 18-month period. The center doesn’t have the financial muscle to find new quarters, she said.
Since the center has become a focus of criticism, its financial condition has deteriorated as new conditions have been imposed by the city and donations have flagged.
The city of Puyallup has offered to buy the center at 414 Spring St., but the offered price won’t give the center enough funds to find a new home, she said.