News

Dispute between Enumclaw and Industrial Skills continues to boil

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

A simmering feud between the city of Enumclaw and Industrial Skills may be reaching the boiling point.

The two enjoyed a harmonious relationship for years, as Industrial Skills managed a "sheltered workshop" where those with mental and physical disabilities worked, earned a salary and could enjoy a feeling of accomplishment. The city had acquired the large building on Battersby Avenue by virtue of a grant intended to help the disadvantaged, and leased the property to Industrial Skills for $10 per year.

And all were happy.

Things have gone downhill over the last year, however, as Industrial Skills has lost funding, lost clients, and moved from its spacious Battersby quarters. The organization has devised a plan to regain firm financial footing: Industrial Skills would like the city to transfer ownership of the building, so it can use the property as collateral and raise the dollars necessary for future money-making endeavors.

The only hitch in the plan is the city isn't feeling inclined to hand over the keys to a valuable piece of public-owned property. In fact, the city has gone just the opposite direction. At their Feb. 10 meeting, members of the Enumclaw City Council declared Industrial Skills in default of their lease agreement due to the following five deficiencies:

€ Industrial Skills is no longer occupying the building at 911 Battersby Ave.

€ has fallen behind on utility payments

€ has curtailed its stated goal of being a sheltered workshop

€ has failed to keep the building neat and clean, and

€ has failed to pay its stormwater assessment to King County.

The council action prompted city administration to begin a process that will do one of two things: either Industrial Skills will correct what the city sees as failures, or the city will take control of the building. A step in resolving the issue was scheduled for yesterday (Tuesday), when City Administrator Mark Bauer and City Attorney Mike Reynolds planned to meet with Industrial Skills attorney Raymond Gessil and, perhaps, members of the Industrial Skills board of directors.

An accompanying issue deals with a tenant, Del's Farm Supply, which leases an adjacent parcel of land. Payments have been made to Industrial Skills but the city has sent a letter indicating future payments should be made to the city of Enumclaw; money will be held in a separate account, Bauer said, until the entire issue is resolved.

Because information had gone back and forth between the city and Industrial Skills for months, the two sides gathered Feb. 3 for a workshop session at City Hall.

Gessil used the occasion to assert the ongoing difficulties should go beyond the specific desires of the city or Industrial Skills and, instead, concentrate on "serving a specific class or group of people." He repeated his contention that the city shouldn't concentrate on the exact language in its contract with Industrial Skills; instead, he said, the city should consider what's best for those whose special needs have been met over the years by Industrial Skills.

"The lease was merely a formality," Gessil said, arguing that the city should hand over ownership of the building so Industrial Skills can continue its mission of providing legitimate work for those with handicaps. Gessel told council members they have a "moral and ethical" responsibility to assure those services are provided.

Pam Aldridge, Industrial Skills' director, told the council the organization has made great strides over the past six years and had become "a legitimate business, not just a sheltered shop." Workers were performing custodial duties for customers and packaging dry goods, she said.

At one time, Industrial Skills employed more than 60 developmentally delayed adults, but that number has plummeted to between five and 10, Aldridge said. The decrease came when federal funding, channeled through King County, was withheld after Industrial Skills was found not in compliance with demands tied to the funding. Aldridge has argued the organization was denied the right to appeal, but that hasn't changed the situation.

The city had been an ally in that process, as both former mayor George Rossman and current mayor John Wise wrote letters in support of Industrial Skills and its goals.

The city and Industrial Skills partnered years ago when Referendum 29 money became available to purchase the Battersby Avenue property. A public agency had to sponsor the project and the city stepped forward, accepting more than $800,000 to purchase the property. Industrial Skills has been the only tenant, paying $10 per year to occupy the building. A clause in the contract specifies the tenant has the option to buy the building for the original purchase price.

Instead, Industrial Skills argues the city should hand over the property. The arrangement with the city was hammered out for one reason, Gessil said - to guarantee a group of vulnerable citizens could be helped. If the city isn't willing to offer a program, he said, the council should take steps to assure Industrial Skills can operate.

When it was his turn to address the council, Reynolds reminded that the city's original role, as project sponsor, was to assure the terms attached to the Referendum 29 money are carried out. "We want to make sure we are good stewards of a publicly-owned asset," he said.

Industrial Skills want ownership of the building, Reynolds explained, so it can be used as collateral for future loans. Giving a valuable asset to a private, not-for-profit organization could be a dicey proposal, he said, unless a viable business plan is in place. The city had asked Industrial Skills last summer for such a plan, but none was provided.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com

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