June 16, 2012 in City

East Central center may switch to a nonprofit

Funds-strapped city weighing its options
By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Jade O’Connor, smiling at upper right, dances enthusiastically in a free Zumba exercise class at the East Central Community Center on Thursday. The weekly exercise class is just one of the many services provided by the center, which is a city-owned service, unlike most of the other community centers, which operate as nonprofit entities.
(Full-size photo)

In a cost-cutting move, city officials likely will convert the East Central Community Center to a nonprofit operation like Spokane’s other community centers.

Twelve employees likely would lose their jobs by the end of the year if the transition happens.

The city expects budget shortfalls next year, and much of the funding for the East Central Community Center comes from the city’s tax-supported general fund, which also pays for services such as policing, streets and libraries.

The transition to a nonprofit could allow the community center to seek outside funding it’s now ineligible to receive, said Jonathan Mallahan, neighborhood services director.

“The city’s priority is to find a way that the East Central Community Center can be sustainably funded and operated and continue to provide services long into the future,” Mallahan said. “We have shrinking resources at the city.”

The center provides nutrition, wellness and fitness classes, a computer lab, a meeting room, and other services.

In April, Mayor David Condon announced a no-growth budget for 2013, meaning city departments will receive the same level of funding as this year. The Finance Division forecasts a $9 million to $10 million shortfall due to increased expenses, such as the cost of goods and employee benefits, coupled with possible reductions in revenue from the state.

The city would still own the community center’s land, building and equipment, but a nonprofit would manage the property and services.

Currently, the East Central Community Center gets 47.5 percent of its funding from the city’s general fund, or nearly $470,000. Its total budget in 2012 was $990,000.

The city’s other major community centers, the Northeast Community Center and the West Central Community Center, get 12.5 percent and 7.6 percent of their funding from the general fund, respectively.

“So the model they’re operating under … is a great way for the reliance on city funding to be lower while still providing all the services the neighborhood really needs,” Mallahan said.

The transition would likely lower the center’s operating costs, in part through eliminating administration costs associated with being a city department, which other centers don’t have to pay for, Mallahan said.

“If this does transition outside the city, there would not be any more civil service employees out there,” Mallahan said.

The center’s six full-time and six part-time employees likely will be laid off by the end of the year and added to a layoff list that would make hiring them for similar city positions a priority. However, only the parks department has jobs with the same classification and “they probably won’t be hiring anytime soon,” said Joe Cavanaugh, president of Local 270, which represents the employees.

“If a private entity takes over, (the current employees) have no claim to employment,” Cavanaugh said. “And they are very concerned about that.”

However, if their work history qualifies them for other layoff lists, they can be added to those, he said.

Jerry Numbers, chairman of the East Central Neighborhood Council, said the transition is overdue, and that “it would be natural for employees to oppose the idea.”

“They like working there,” he said.

Regardless of whether officials move forward with the change, the parks department is cutting its 2013 budget, and is considering a 10 percent reduction in its support for community centers, as well as youth and senior centers.

The city will issue a request for proposals from nonprofits interested in taking over the operation, Mallahan said. “If we don’t get the right proposal then we’re not going to pull the trigger on this.”

The East Central Community Center opened in 1979 with federal money and was run by the city. When the other centers started opening, city officials saw success in nonprofit models in other communities and went that route, but the East Central Community Center continued as a city department.

“We are seriously considering a change in how the ECCC is operated,” city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said in an email.

But East Central’s interim director, Kathy Armstrong, said nothing is certain yet.

“That conversation has been going on for a while,” Armstrong said. “Everything at this point is kind of up in the air. They’ve been trying to help us … put East Central in the best position we can be in, whether we’re under the city or not.”

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