‘It’s not over’ with senior center, says board chairman

A contingent of seniors showed up at the Chisago County Board meeting Oct. 3 to express their support for county funding being allocated to the Chisago County Senior Center in 2013.

At a meeting last month, the board had voted 3-2 to cut the county’s 2013 contribution to the senior center, which would have amounted to $30,000.

Commissioners George McMahon, Ben Montzka and Rick Greene voted to make the cut.

Commissioners Mike Robinson and Lora Walker cast dissenting votes.

Since the board approved its preliminary 2013 budget at that meeting, it cannot raise taxes before next year to fund programs or other expenditures.

However, money could be moved around within the county budget to accommodate funding for senior center activities at Uptown Maple Commons in North Branch, and that’s what Robinson proposed the board should do.

He made a motion to take $25,000 from the county’s contingency fund and give it to the senior center in 2013.

“We’re not talking a lot of money here,” he said. “With our population, every citizen would pay a penny a week and that would come to $28,000. It’s not like there’s a big chunk of money going out the door.”

Commissioner Lora Walker seconded his motion, but wanted to discuss how the county should support the senior center.

“I’d like to see program aid continue, but I’d like to see us not having to tax people in our county if we can coordinate an approach from a federal source, a grant source,” she said.

She proposed the county might be able to match any grants obtained by the senior center, but a no vote was taken on that suggestion at the meeting.

Commissioner Rick Greene said if the county provided financial backing to the senior center, the authorities that allocate grant money likely wouldn’t give money to the senior center.

“If you don’t show the need, they’ll say, ‘Hey, you don’t qualify,”’ he said. “You need to show the need to qualify.”

The board voted to deny Robinson’s motion 3-2 with Montzka, Greene and McMahon casting the opposing votes.

McMahon, however, said that just because the board chose not to fund the senior center next year, that doesn’t mean it will have to close its doors.

Like Walker, he mentioned the senior center could pursue more grants or other alternative funding sources.

“I’d like to remind everyone that this program is not going to end today or tomorrow,” McMahon said. “We adopt our budget in December, so it’s not over. The center is funded through the end of this year. There is work that can be done in the meantime to fund this position.”

Public comment 

Five Chisago County seniors spoke during the meeting about the senior center, with only one being in approval of the board’s decision.

Executive director/coordinator of the Chisago County Senior Center Dawn Cash also took the podium in support of funding senior programming at the center.

Don Hartzell, a 49-year North Branch resident and a member of the North Branch Lions Club, said he supports the senior center, as does the Lions Club.

“I understand the Lions Club gave the senior center $1,000 not that long ago,” he said. “If we’re able to, we’ll support them.”

He added, “(Cutting the budget) from $30,000 a year to zero is almost cruel. It’s devastating to the program, and it would be hard for the community.”

Sue Sinna, of Lent Township, was the senior who spoke in favor of the board’s decision.

She said she worked for Hennepin County for 25 years and noted most counties don’t support senior centers the way Chisago County has done.

County Administrator Bruce Messelt conducted research before the meeting to find out how many Minnesota counties give money to senior centers within their respective counties.

He surveyed 87 counties, 38 of which responded to his query.

Of those 38 counties, 28 reported no financial support for senior centers.

Five counties reported support of less than $10,000.

Four of those counties – Isanti, Itasca, Winona and Mower – budgeted $25,000 or more to support senior center activities.

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