County board cuts senior center funding

If the Chisago County Community Center in North Branch can’t somehow come up with about $30,000 next year, senior programming at the location could be completely cut.
At its Sept. 5 meeting, the Chisago County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to completely slash the funding.
Board Chairman George McMahon and commissioners Rick Greene and Ben Montzka voted to make the cut.
Commissioners Mike Robinson and Lora Walker cast dissenting votes, saying that they saw merit in continuing to fund senior programming.
Robinson said he “didn’t know why” McMahon, Greene and Montzka voted to cut the county contribution.
Dawn Cash, the executive director/coordinator of the Chisago County Senior Center for the past 17 years, said she realizes times are tough, but the programming offered at the center is important to a myriad of seniors in the area.
She said the center offers dozens of programs in health, education and other services – like legal aid and tax help – that are used by seniors.
Just last year, the services were used 13,198 times by seniors, according to Cash’s official statistics.
She noted that number doesn’t accurately reflect just how many seniors use the service, though, because some don’t sign in on attendance sheets when they come to programs.
If those people signed the sheets, she said the number would be far higher.
Cash added that finding different funding sources to keep senior programming going – like more grants and donations – likely wouldn’t be enough to keep the doors open.
She also explained that the space used for senior programming at Uptown Maple Commons is rented from Ecumen, but the senior living facility provides no funding to the program.

A place to socialize
In addition to providing services such as exercise classes, defensive driving courses and painting classes – just to name a few – Cash said the Community Center senior programs provide a place for seniors to come and socialize, which she stressed is very important to overall well-being.
“It gives them somewhere to go and it gives them something to do so they’re not sitting in their houses looking at four walls,” she said.

Not normally county funded
McMahon said the board made the decision to no longer fund senior programming because “the dollars are getting tighter and tighter” and the board had to make a tough decision about where taxpayer dollars should be spent.
“Nobody likes having their budgets reduced and we don’t like reducing anybody’s budget, but it’s a fact of life that it’s going to happen over and over again, so everybody is just going to have to adjust,” he said.
McMahon also noted numerous other counties across the state don’t fund senior programming.
Instead, he said individual cities sometimes step in and take over that role.
However, he said if Cash could come to the board with a more detailed account of where county dollars would be allocated in terms of senior programming, money still could be moved around in the county’s budget to accommodate some funding.
He said the county approached Cash about reducing funding for senior programming by 10 percent next year, but she took an “all or nothing” approach.
In a letter she submitted to the board Aug. 28, Cash said she “(couldn’t) cut anymore” from her budget.
McMahon noted the board cannot increase its budget from the preliminary amount approved earlier this month, so any money that could be given to the program would have to come from already-existing county funds.

‘A very important place’
Pat Menne-Hannigan, 67, who has lived in North Branch for 10 years, said the Community Center is “a very important place” to seniors in Chisago County and she doesn’t want to see senior programming completely cut.
Menne-Hannigan started using the programming in November of last year and has been going to the Community Center, Monday through Friday, since that time.
She said senior programming is utilized by people in their 60s to late 90s.
“This is a hub, it really is – it’s a hub and it’s important to the community,” she said. “It’s a good place and I’d hate to heck to see it close.”

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