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Divided City Council Puts Funding For Youth Center As Top Need

Councilors blast cut in EDA fund

For the second time in four years, direct support to the Community Youth Center topped White Salmon's priority list for funding from the Klickitat County Economic Development Authority.

With a 3-1 vote, the White Salmon City Council moved to request $21,500 "to improve, enhance the programs, and keep the Youth Center open year round."

The vote was a controversial one, however. Before the 3-1 vote to give priority to the Youth Center, the council deadlocked at 2-2 on a proposal to make funding for a new four-wheel-drive vehicle for the Police Department its top choice for 2004 funding.

"I'm concerned about safety," explained council member Susan Gookin. "If we miss this opportunity [to get a new police vehicle], what are we going to do?"

"Police have vehicles, maybe they're not in the best condition, but we can keep them going for another year with added maintenance," responded council member Tim Stone. "But kids won't have a Youth Center if we don't help now. The Youth Center will go away."

Councilor Susan Benedict agreed.

"Kids are the grass roots of our community. Having the Youth Center open 12 months a year is most important to the community," Benedict said.

However, Mayor-elect Linda Jones wondered what were the center's plans to keep the facility open in the future.

"We're proposing funding it for one year. They're in need for more than one year," Jones said. "I'm wondering, do they need a professional grant writer? What are the plans for keeping the Youth Center going?"

Jones added that the city did not gain funding for the animal shelter last year because the city's proposal was not specific enough. She wondered if this might meet the same fate.

"I'm worried about whether it's a viable project. I question if they'll grant that," Jones explained.

Benedict said she didn't see that as a problem.

"It's close. We can work on it," she said.

Benedict suggested more fundraising events, such as bake sales and car washes.

Councilor Morris said she would most like to see an animal shelter get priority.

"We need to work on that and get that done," Morris said. "We really need a dog pound. If we don't start getting some dollars, we won't get anything accomplished. It would benefit not only Bingen and White Salmon, but the entire community if we had a place established."

She said if it were up to her, the animal shelter would be the top priority, with a new fire tanker truck second and and a new police car third.

Gookin said the police car would be her top choice. Stone and Benedict wanted Youth Center funding.

Morris pointed out that the Youth Center was getting more than its share of EDA money, and said she did not believe the city should be supporting the Youth Center "on an ongoing basis."

"We've had the Youth Center over and over again," Morris explained. "I'm pro-Youth Center, but they're not the only area we need to concentrate on. They do great things, but there has to be a better way. There are other needs in this community."

Because she did not support making the Community Youth Center the city's top priority, Morris sided with Gookin's idea about going with the new police vehicle.

That created a 2-2 split, and Mayor Roger Holen was not present to break the tie.

To resolve the issue, Morris reluctantly agreed to support the Youth Center project.

"But this is the last year for the Youth Center to come to us for money," Morris added.

Given the lateness of the decision -- the deadline to apply for EDA grants is Dec. 22 -- Benedict said it would be wise to start the EDA prioritization process much earlier next year.

"Let's start talking about the EDA in July so we can get it figured out ahead of time," Benedict said.

In a subsequent 3-1 vote, the city set money for a four-wheel-drive police vehicle as its second priority. Stone, Morris, and Gookin supported that, with Benedict wanting funds for an animal shelter to be in second place.

After the decision was rendered, the councilors criticized reductions in EDA funding. Morris noted that the county provided $500,000 just three years ago, but the figure was decreased to $250,000 for 2004.

"We need to start demanding as a council to see where that landfill money is going," Morris said.

Benedict agreed.

"We should be able to see what they're doing with that," Benedict said. "We need to investigate why our funds have been cut in half, and find out where that $6.2 million is going."

"I know where some of it went," said Lance Stryker, president of the White Salmon Fire Department, who attended the special meeting to appeal for support for a new tanker truck. "About $10 million went to the Dallesport sewer system. I think that's an outrage. That's all private property."

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