Politics & Government

Lakewood pulls financial lifeline from Tillicum community center

The community center in Tillicum that serves one of Lakewood’s poorest neighborhoods will not receive continued federal funding for its operations.

The Lakewood City Council made the decision Monday night, leaving center executive director Karen Priest and Tillicum residents at the meeting visibly upset.

Priest has said the center could be forced to close.

“This board, myself and my staff will do everything in our power to keep it open,” she said through tears after Monday’s vote. “But we do need the city’s help in some capacity.”

Some City Council members explained their decision before voting unanimously to cut off funding.

“I think we have a duty as stewards of public funds — in fact we have eight statutory requirements in federal law — to comply with strings that come attached to these federal funds,” said Mayor Don Anderson, who phoned in from Washington, D.C., where he was on city business.

Anderson said he wanted to see the money used for the most needy people. But at the center, he said, “I don’t think that’s happening in an efficient manner.”

Anderson cited concerns about the revocation of the center's nonprofit status with the federal government. The Internal Revenue Service website shows the agency lost its status in May 2012 after not filing its 990 tax forms for three years. The website does not list a reinstatement date.

Center staff were unaware of the revocation and Lakewood staff said they received a copy of the center's nonprofit status when it applied for funding last year.

The Tillicum community is bordered by Interstate 5, American Lake and Camp Murray in south Lakewood. It is home to the city’s highest concentration of low-income residents at 80 percent, according to city data.

The Tillicum American Lake Gardens Community Service Center caters to those residents by offering a food bank, clothing donation center and nutrition program for women and children, among other services.

But a city advisory committee recommended against giving to the center this year, citing concerns with its past financial reporting.

The denial marks the first time in the city’s 14-year history of receiving the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money that it hasn’t given to the center.

The Lakewood City Council divvied up $471,752 in grant money among 10 agencies Monday. Of that, roughly $70,000 was available to public service agencies such as the community center.

In the end, the money was allocated to South Sound Outreach Services, the YMCA child care scholarship program, CenterForce and Living Access Support Alliance.

The Tillicum center and House of Prayer Foundation were the two applicants not to receive any money.

The council also approved taking roughly $40,000 previously earmarked for the Tillicum center and redirecting it to a city road project.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467 brynn.grimley@thenewstribune.com