Senior center likely to fall short of cash in 2012

Published on: 9/27/2011

The proposed 2012 budget plan for Hart Park Senior Center leaves the organization $35,000 short of being able to fully fund its current programs and services.

One solution is for the Budget Committee to take the money from elsewhere in the city budget and fill the hole, but panel members didn't jump at that option Thursday.

Committee members want to see a longer-term plan for the center that could include anything from privatization, embarking on fundraising campaigns or reducing hours and increasing fees to its users.

Those discussions won't be accomplished in time to plan the 2012 operating budget, so the committee said it would revisit the funding request after it tackles other areas of the budget.

'This issue has to evolve more,' said Alderman Michael Walsh, the committee chairman.

A significant portion of the center's funding comes from federal Community Development Block Grants, which came in this year at $104,000 - $20,500 lower than anticipated and about $35,000 less than needed. The downward funding trend is likely continue.

In addition, the center gets about $34,300 from membership dues and program fees collected by the city, $20,000 from Milwaukee County to fund the senior lunch program and $35,000 from the city's parks fund.

The community sees the senior center as an asset, but if it comes down to decisions such as more money to fix sewers vs. senior center programming, the sewers are going to win right now, Walsh said.

Center Director Merry Noel Johnson anticipates demand to increase as baby boomers age. About 18 percent of the city's population is older than 65, and their well-being is dependent on physical activity, socialization, mental stimulation and emotional connection, she said.

In 2010, 27,632 visits were made to the center and program attendance came in at 24,596.

In addition to looking to the city for more money, Johnson wanted to know if she had the authority to seek out grants and fundraising opportunities.

'The newsletter could be subsidized very easily by advertising from local businesses,' she said.

Committee members gave Johnson the green light to pursue private funding to make up the gap and added they would like to see staff made available, if time allows, to aid her in fundraising activities.