Senior Center of West Seattle passed over for major levy funding

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The organization that operates the Senior Center of West Seattle is protesting being passed over for major ongoing funding from the King County Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy.

County Executive Dow Constantine‘s office announced the funding earlier this week. The list is highlighted by ongoing funding for 14 proposals, from $885,000 for a senior center in Enumclaw to $1.9 million for four agencies in Seattle to serve Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. (The application guidelines, the announcement explains, “encouraged regional senior centers and other community groups to form collaborations or ‘hubs’ to better reach specific demographics, or serve a defined geographic area or cultural group.”)

While that major funding will be over the course of the six-year levy, at the bottom of the announced list are 13 agencies/facilities getting one-time-only grants of $90,000 each. That’s where you’ll find the Senior Center of West Seattle – which describes itself as the largest senior center in the city, serving more than 4,500 people a year.

SCWS is operated by Sound Generations, whose chief operating officer Joanne Donohue sent us this message after the funding announcement:

King County government made us proud when they responded to a need that was created by a United Way funding cut. For about 50 years, United Way supported older adults in King County, but in 2016 they changed their priorities and eliminated funding for older adults and people with disabilities, which resulted in the local senior center losing vital funding. King County was getting ready to renew the Veterans and Human Services Levy, so Dow Constantine, the King County Council and staff who worked for King County decided to ask the voters to support adding an S to the levy. The S was for “Seniors”. This would more than double the levy and it would also help us address our homelessness problem, so it was a brave move by the elected officials to do this.

On Friday my organization learned that King County was not going to provide ongoing funding through the levy for the West Seattle Senior Center. I think most people in West Seattle would agree that the senior center is the focal point for serving older adults and probably most people in West Seattle voted for the levy and are now paying for it through their taxes.

Do you see West Seattle Senior Center on the list? Possibly at the very bottom – a footnote you see something about them receiving one time funding. So what happens after the one time funding? Bake sales? If this makes you not so proud of your local government, then you might want to let Dow Constantine and Joe McDermott know.

We asked some followup questions both of Donohue and of the King County department overseeing the process.

She said they applied for funding – which as the list shows was granted for “hubs” – by positioning the West Seattle, Ballard, and Shoreline/Lake Forest Park centers as a “hub” serving the west side of the metro area. All three were passed over for the major funding, Donohue says, noting, “West Seattle and Ballard NW Senior Center are the only senior centers in Seattle that didn’t receive funding. Together they serve more people than most that did receive funding added together.”

Leon Richardson, acting director of the Adult Services Division of the King County Department of Community and Human Services, spoke with WSB by phone this morning to answer our questions about the process. He says it was “very competitive,” with 22 applications representing 41 senior centers. The funding decisions weren’t made by bureaucrats, he stressed, but by a 15-member “panel” of people “representative of the community at large (with) subject-matter experts from across the field.” (We’ve asked for more details on the panel.) The “hub” proposal including West Seattle, he said, “didn’t rise above the other ones,” but he couldn’t get any more specific.

This was the only funding round of its kind for this levy, Richardson said, but there will be other “procurements” over the course of the levy (which was approved in 2017 and runs for six years). This process was preceded by a different round of smaller one-time grants, for example, including an $84,000 grant received by SCWS earlier this year.

Meantime, Donohue says Sound Generations has sent a letter of protest and is also planning to contact Executive Constantine and Councilmember McDermott (both West Seattle residents).

23 Replies to "Senior Center of West Seattle passed over for major levy funding"

  • Plf August 22, 2019 (12:28 pm)

    This is frustrating, I assumed when voting for the levy all centers would receive some enhancement, no to discard other centers but I would have thought long and hard in voting for the increase in my taxes if I knew our local center would receive zip.  The details in the levy description never indicated that some centers would not be includedhas the center leadership indicated what might help to get Dow to reconsider?  We can call both him and Joe ( if they want our support)  but do we know if they the center have a plan we can support 

  • old timer August 22, 2019 (1:34 pm)

    IMO, there is a deep  bureaucratic bias against the West Seattle Senior Center.  It’s been exhibited for years.  I don’t belong/attend Senior Center;  just what I’ve read over time here at the Blog.  Maybe its just part of the general neglect that West Seattle gets in all the governmental services, but somehow, the Senior Center seems to be specifically targeted.   Just my opinion.

  • Diane August 22, 2019 (2:22 pm)

    yes, I would like to know who is on this “15-member “panel” of people “representative of the community at large (with) subject-matter experts from across the field.”

  • WiseWoman August 22, 2019 (2:31 pm)

    Why wouldn’t a panel dive up money amongst all applications? I am a proud supporter of shopping at their store!

  • DD August 22, 2019 (2:37 pm)

    Any panel that makes determinations on how to spend public funds derived from taxpayers should be identified. In addition the explicit criteria used in this process  should be public information.  It is ludicrous to lump the westernmost peninsulas of the city in to one “hub” when these areas are not easily accessible to each other given traffic realities as well as transportation and financial constraints that some seniors experience.   A quick read of the “awardees” list seemed to indicate more than one subgroup received multiple awards.     This does not appear to have been an equitable allocation of resources. I really wish we had the option to earmark some of the tax dollars we contribute………let the public have more direct input in to funding special services.

    • candrewb August 22, 2019 (4:13 pm)

      It is public information. You can also request all of evaluation notes, scoring sheets/criteria, etc…

    • Claire Edith Petersky August 30, 2019 (7:46 am)

      It was West Seattle Senior Center’s choice to go in with Ballard and Shoreline. A few senior centers went in solo, typically to serve a specific population (LGBTQ, African Diaspora, those with dementia, etc) across the county. But senior centers were encouraged to put in an application in partnership with others. While most of these partnerships were geographically contiguous, the County explicitly said that they didn’t have to be. West Seattle, Ballard, and Shoreline are all a part of Sound Generations. It’s probably this affiliation that caused them to apply together.

  • Onion August 22, 2019 (3:06 pm)

    At least Dow can’t be accused of tipping the scales toward West Seattle (noted sarcastically).  In fairness, the winning proposals stress the words “will become,” which suggests they have ground to cover to be as effective as West Seattle.

  • anonyme August 22, 2019 (3:35 pm)

    This is yet further evidence that these levies are deceptive in their promises, at the very least.  I was highly suspicious of last year’s levy that added seniors onto the title as a cynical ploy to harvest more votes, while cuts were simultaneously being made to senior services and programs.  Now, more cuts – at least to West Seattle, which seems inexplicably inequitable.  The library levy is the most recent example of this tactic, rolling in money for completely unrelated social services, knowing that library levies always pass.  Both these newest funding cuts, as well as the levy system in this city/county, must be investigated.   This stinks to high heaven.

  • Robbing Peter to Pay Paul August 22, 2019 (4:47 pm)

    Reading the levy’s implementation plan leads me to believe that the deck was stacked against senior centers that are already operating well. The plan is available at: VSHSL Implementation Plan (2019-2023)It highlights that funds will be results-based so that people, places and programs that have a greater impact on meeting the levy goals will receive funding.  That sounds like a good idea.  The the single largest grant area for seniors, Transform Senior Centers, is funded at $3.7 million annually for the life of the levy. This also sounds like a good idea. Other comments suggest that voters may have thought that the funds would be allocated  on a per-capita or formula basis. However, the implementation plan makes a few of their funding areas competitive. Transform Senior Centers is one of the few competitive grants. It’s rationale and rules are what made less successful senior centers more competitive. Unfortunately, that is where West Seattle and Ballard lose out. The designers of the implementation plan wanted to make the less successful more successful, which also sounds good. But, by making it a competitive grant, rather than a per-capitat or formula allocation, the more successful senior centers are at risk of becoming less successful. By removing a secure annual funding source, the Senior Centers may have to make up the loss of County funding with private funds. Working to secure private funds may have a perverse impact on the populations that the Transform Senior Centers grant is trying to target: LGBT, seniors of color, immigrants or refugees, non-English speakers, homebound seniors, and veterans.  Too frequently, more time and effort is spent on private fundraising which can take away from time and effort spent programming for hard to reach populations.  When fewer resources are available to innovate and do outreach to more underserved populations of senior, Senior Centers that need private funding tend to focus the remaining time and effort on their current programs that currently served seniors enjoy. These more traditional programs (e.g., Bingo, Big Band Dinner) need to continue to be part of the programming to show that at least some seniors in the community are being served, but may not help with the expansion of services to new populations of seniors that are also growing in West Seattle who might be attracted to alternative programming.The strength of the traditional programming, demonstrated by number of people served, may not have made them competitive enough against senior centers that have been less successful in their programming even though West Seattle and Ballard have equal or greater numbers of vulnerable populations as most other parts of the city (for one data point see the graphic on page 35 of the implementation plan).It’s a classic robbing Peter to pay Paul situation.I recommend that future grant allocations for this fund area are divided based on an allocation formula rather than a competitive basis.  It is worthy use of funds to help less successful senior centers get stronger, but it should not be achieved by weakening currently successful senior centers by diverting their time and energy from their main role: supporting social engagement for ALL seniors. Or, as the West Seattle Senior Center vision states:”Our vision is a West Seattle community where everyone of every age can be supported in their goals for health, wellness and lifelong learning, and stay involved with each other while living their best possible lives.”

    • Joanne Donohue August 26, 2019 (10:06 pm)

      Thank you for making this comment. It makes no sense why this needed to be a zero sum game. There was plenty of money to allocate to sustain all senior centers through out King County. The West Seattle community has invested money and volunteer time since 1972  to create what is now one of the most innovative senior centers in King County. With this decision, King County has made it so much more difficult for the senior center to carry on with this role. This is the senior center that started Rainbow Bingo, has led efforts to pass legislation in Olympia to make it easier for senior centers to raise money, started Westside Neighbors to take the senior center’s social worker out into the community, was the first to offer inexpensive foot care and so many other things. 

  • Peter August 22, 2019 (4:59 pm)

    A lot of people seem to be upset about how the levy money is used, which is natural. When you vote for more taxes you expect more services for them. But unfortunately it rarely works that way. I suggest doing what I do: vote no on every tax and every levy every time. The only taxes I will vote for are to expand and improve mass transit.

  • K8 August 22, 2019 (9:23 pm)

    I’m going to vote no the next time this comes around then. 

  • Mike August 23, 2019 (5:52 am)

    It amazes me people don’t understand what they’re voting for and just color in the I love paying the government more money for no reason box.  Do some math while you’re at it, look at how much money you are voting to give away to people you already don’t trust to handle funds.

  • Greg August 23, 2019 (8:00 am)

    I vote no on all levies.  Our government officials who make the decisions on how to spend tax money do not work within boundaries.  They waste the money they have and they ask for more and more.  There needs to be constraints on spending and all spending needs to be effective.  They do most of this on the backs of property owners and most of the people voting aren’t property owners.  So why not vote yes for everything?

    • KM August 23, 2019 (10:41 am)

      Greg, as stated several times before, property owners aren’t the only ones who pay property taxes. A landlord not passing the cost of taxes on to their tenants is either bad at business or extremely generous.

      • CandrewB August 24, 2019 (8:34 am)

        Landlords receive generally what the market bares. If your mortgage on a one bedroom condo is $2000 but the market determines the going rate is $1700, that’s what you’ll get. It doesn’t care what your expenses are. If your taxes go up $100, you are still going to receive $1700 a month in rent. Supply and demand determine the rent, not your expenses.

  • JJ August 27, 2019 (3:43 pm)

    It’s so sad that Senior Centers are having to spend excessive time and energy with fundraisers just to raise capital to keep doors and great programs open. Ballard, West Seattle, Shoreline serve huge numbers on shoe string budgets.  Now they are being passed over on a levey that was to help support increasing programs for a diverse population.  

  • Justme August 28, 2019 (7:42 am)

    @jj well said. I completely agree

  • Marjorie Powell August 28, 2019 (10:54 am)

    I am a long-time resident of West Seattle, I voted “yes” for this levy, and I am absolutely appalled. I agree with the comments that it is ridiculous that the levy funds are not being distributed among all the senior centers in the area. It’s ludicrous to think that some centers are more deserving than others. All the seniors in King County deserve to be served. What was the panel thinking? Our Senior Center offers so many activities and services, and it is always busy.  It serves so many people in West Seattle. This is not what we voted for.

  • Annie Davis August 28, 2019 (11:25 am)

    I am on the board of the Ballard Northwest Senior Center.  I voted yes for the levy.  If I had known that some centers would not receive funds, I would not have voted for it.  All Seniors deserve to be served – wherever they are. 
    I would like to know where the county came up with the hub concept. It is
    certainly not in the best practices research. 

    Also, the best way to help senior centers innovate is to
    stabilize operations with sufficient funding. You can’t have innovation without
    sufficient, stable funding. The county may need to convene another panel, made up of real Senior Citizens, like me!   


  • NK August 28, 2019 (12:11 pm)

    When I travel to Asia, I witness first-hand the respect given to seniors; attention, care, connections. It is a shame that in the US, we have to fight for our seniors to receive the care they need. King County can and should do better!

  • Future Senior August 28, 2019 (3:52 pm)

    I love the West Seattle Senior Center and am so sad that they were not approved for the important projects that could have been funded by this grant.  Even though the SSWS is fiscally strong, regular operations are expensive and the vibrant life of the Center cannot be maintained if funding needs are not supported.   The SSWS is innovative and continually works to stay relevant to the growing number of seniors and community members who use its programs and services.  The Transform Senior Centers grant tried to do just that, support the growing number of seniors who are a part of the diverse landscape of our community: LGBT seniors, seniors of color, immigrants or refugees, non-English speakers, homebound seniors, veterans and more.  We all love Rainbow Bingo but the Senior Center needs this funding to expand services to new populations of seniors in West Seattle who be more interested in new programs/offerings.

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