City of Delano exploring idea of taking over senior center

Nov. 5, 2007

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

Changes may be in store for the operations of the Delano Senior Center, but city officials want to continue the same services and offerings Delano area seniors have become accustomed to.

The Delano Senior Center is operated by Senior Community Services (SCS), and the city council learned last month that transportation funding for SCS from the Metropolitan Council has been cut off as of Jan. 1, 2008.

As of Jan. 1, SCS will be missing $75,803 presently received from the Met Council from its budget, which made the city council question how SCS would be able to provide transportation services to local seniors. Delano City Administrator Phil Kern said SCS wants to continue operating a limited version of the transportation program, beginning in 2008.

He said it is believed SCS will try to tap local funding sources to fund the program next year, but possibly look to participating cities/Wright County to make up the funding gap in the program the following year.

Discussion took place by the council about the possibility of taking over the senior center operations, and managing the facility itself, without SCS. City staff has developed a plan that would cost the city about $35,000 to operate the same transportation program by taking over the entire center.

Right now, the city funds a “significant portion of the center operations,” Kern said.

Other communities and agencies fund the center in part, as well. If the city is able to assume the current funding from these other communities and agencies, there is a gap of $35,000 that would need to be filled.

That gap, however, does not include the current $20,000 fee charged by SCS to manage the center, and could be lower without SCS.

Some ideas to bridge the gap include participation from Wright County. Kern said he has spoken with County Board Chairman Jack Russek, who indicated he would push for additional county funding.

Other options include possible membership fees for participants, and/or a possible ridership fee increase for riders from communities that may not increase funding to cover added costs.

Kern said he spoke with Marvin Johnson, who is a board member of SCS, and also a strong advocate for the senior center and its transportation program. He told Kern it’s important to keep transportation from Hennepin County to the senior center.

SCS Executive Director Benjamin Withhart told Kern there is a plan for SCS to maintain transportation for Delano area seniors, and said he has no interest in losing the Delano Senior Center, and that SCS would do what it can to operate it.

Kern said the center, the fundraising that built it, and everything about it, belong to the Delano area seniors, and the option of having the city take over operations of it would keep the center for them.

Gail Sinkel and Linda Zimmermann are employees of SCS, and if the council decides to move forward with taking over operations of the center, job descriptions would be created, and offers extended to them.

“I think it’s Gail, Linda, and the seniors who make the senior center,” Kern said. “It’s the staff who run it and the seniors who participate.”

Kern said it may cost the city in the short-term, but said he believes the city will face those costs anyway, in the long run, with SCS.

He said the city stands a good chance from gaining some additional funding support from the county, and being able to maintain the service level for the seniors by taking over the program.

A sticking point for the option of the city taking over the center is a lease drafted in 2003 to allow the seniors to use the facility.

That year, the seniors completed fundraising efforts for the new senior center, raising almost $600,000. At that time, the funds were turned over to the city and a lease was drafted to guarantee the seniors’ long-term use of the facility.

Because the seniors were not incorporated as a non-profit organization, the lease was put in the name of SCS. Now, SCS has said it could hold the lease to prevent the city from using the space to operate the center.

If it came to this, a worst-case scenario option would be to operate the senior center from the Delano Fire Department in the period until the issue is resolved. Senior center operations will continue as they presently are through the end of the year.