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Setting the record straight
Forks Forum Editor
Nedra Reed wants to set the record straight.
In a lengthy letter to the editor in this week’s Forum, and in a wide-ranging interview, Reed, the chairman of the board of the Quillayute Valley Park and Recreation District, responded to critics, including Clallam County Treasurer Selinda Barkhuis and former Forks resident Renee Renninger.
She was joined by the district’s attorney, Craig Miller.
Miller said he has advised the board members to direct all media questions to him. He explained his advice, saying, “I think it’s unlikely that there will be litigation, but there is a possibility of suits.”
If the Clallam County board of commissioners followed the advice of Barkhuis and sought to foreclose on the properties at the center of the dispute, “There would likely be litigation,” he said.
On May 14, Barkhuis sent a memo to the commissioners suggesting they take action on the $225,000 loan made by the commission from the county’s “Opportunity Fund.” The district used the funds to purchase four acres and four rental houses on land adjacent to the Forks Community Center. Barkhuis said the park district is now four years in arrears on the payments.
The district has asked the commission to forgive the loan.
Reed said the district is only two years in arrears. She said the commissioners waived two years of payments.
Forgiving the loan, she said, is only fair.
“The West End of Clallam County received a very small amount of revenue from the Opportunity Fund,” she said. In addition to the Forks housing, the commissioners provided funding for the Sekiu Community Center.
She said the idea behind the purchase of the rental properties was to provide a revenue stream that would assist in the operation of the Forks Aquatic Center.
She noted the commission had delivered most of the Opportunity Fund funding in the form of grants, which are outright gifts. The only loans were for the Forks housing project and a business incubator in Port Angeles.
“We would like the county to forgive the loan because we’re the only loan that’s left,” she said.
The loan to the incubator was forgiven after the operation shut down.
“Given the fact that the county commissioners have granted millions of dollars to other entities, they might consider forgiving it for us when we could prove that we could do so much more than what the loan payment is accomplishing for the county.”
She said the monies could pay “for summer programs for kids, it could be used for soccer fields, for improving services to seniors, or to do more homeless meals than we do now.”
“That $6,000 (annually) would be an incredible amount of money to put back into our community.”
Reed and Miller also responded to criticisms from Barkhuis that the loan was predicated on a promise to utilize the money to provide low-income housing. They said one of the houses had been used for that purpose, but were uncertain if any continued to be used that way. Rachael Seelye, who manages the properties for Lunsford Realty, said the houses are all rented at market value.
Response to Renninger
Reed also responded to questions posed by Renninger in a letter to the editor published in the June 6 Forks Forum.
Reed denied Renninger had ever offered her fitness business as a “gift” to the district. Reed supplied the Forum with copies of all correspondence between the district and Renninger, pointing out that no mention of a gift was made.
In her letter Renninger asked if public funds were used to purchase the workout equipment now in the Forks Aquatic Center.
Reed said the district had purchased one item, a multi-use exercise station that is anchored in concrete, before contracting with the owners of the Forks Aquatic Health Club, who currently lease the space. She said it was purchased with the idea that at some point the district might be able to utilize the space.
She said other equipment was donated by the Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center, but that the vast majority of the equipment now in use is the property of the current leaseholders.
She added that while the district has no role in the business affairs of the Forks Aquatic Health Club, the 25 employees she referred to when writing to the county are instructors at the center. Some may be full-time, many are likely part-time, she said.
She said the training for the workers, and the liability, are the concerns of the Forks Aquatic Health Club.
“We have a hold-harmless clause in the contract,” Miller said.
Reed also said the district picks up the tab for the insurance for the facility because the insurance company wouldn’t segregate their bill into separate accounts. “We’ll have to figure it out when the contract comes up in October,” she said.
In the meantime, she said, the club provides a number of services in lieu of the payment.
The club also uses the building rent-free. Miller said the board can choose to rent the facility for less if it’s in the aid to the poor and infirm. He added that charging rent might be problematic because the note on the building is paid for by bond funding. Any additional income might be regarded as profit, which is not allowed.
In the end, “the board is entitled to decide the return on its building,” he said.
If citizens don’t like the decision, they can “unelect them.”
Reed called it a sound policy decision, one based on the board’s determination to reopen the Forks Aquatic Center, which had been shuttered for seven years.
“There was no power, mold, dead birds … it was deteriorating,” she said. “It took weeks and lots of dollars to clean it up. Now it’s up and running.”
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.