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Tue., June 19, 2012

Editorial: Converting community center will benefit all

Conversion of the East Central Community Center into a nonprofit may be inevitable, and beneficial.

As a city of Spokane agency, the center has received $470,000 – almost one-half its funding – from the general fund. That’s not a good place to be.

A looming $10 million shortfall in the 2013 budget will snuff out city arts jobs as well as weights and measures positions, and two in real estate, at least according to Mayor David Condon’s reckoning. The City Council may take exception.

Spokane’s two other community centers, West Central and Northeast, depend much less on the city. They lease their building from the city on nominal terms and charge the city for some services. But by far the bulk of their revenue comes from subleasing space to providers of health and dental services, energy assistance, Head Start, and senior meals and classes.

The lists are impressive, and they are indicative of the need for services among the mid- and low-income populations they serve.

Both are also nonprofits, with their own boards, directors and employees. The model has worked for them. Now, it may be East Central’s turn.

The idea has been out there for some time, and conversion was No. 1 among the recommendations submitted to Condon after a series of meetings earlier this year to address the upcoming budget cuts and how the city’s community, youth and senior centers could respond. The cost of operating the 13 centers amounts to about $5.6 million.

That will likely fall by 10 percent in the 2013 fiscal year.

Among the other ideas was selling naming rights to the centers, bringing them under the umbrella of something like the Public Facilities District and creating an endowment that might provide a share of operating funds.

One thing at a time.

The city will go out with a request for proposals from potential Southeast Community Center operators as soon as next week. City Neighborhood Services Director Jonathan Mallahan says a quick turnaround will give the center, city and winning applicant a few months to ease the transition to nonprofit status.

Mallahan says the city does not expect to cut its support for the East Central center to that of West Central and Northeast in one year, which should make the handoff easier. City and center officials are also developing a Plan B in case no acceptable proposals come forward.

Preliminary expressions of interest from potential bidders suggest someone will step forward.

The center is “invaluable,” he says, and discontinuation of its services unacceptable. Amen.

The other two centers are sustained not just by clients, but by a long list of partners who see their value as service centers and who make their own contributions, in money and kind. East Central should represent an equally compelling opportunity.

And success there might provide lessons for the city’s 12 other centers. Although each is unique, they share a dependence on a city now less able to sustain them as it has in the past.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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