“I am sorry for the people at the Senior Center, but I will have to vote no on this because I think we are not doing what’s right with our utility (staff),” she said. “We didn’t tell them about this prior to them coming up with their budgets (for 2009), and the rates were set for utilities for the entire community.
“We will be short in our utility funds if we do this, so I have to vote no.”
Watson said his motion for a one-time subsidy was an attempt to buy the Senior Center some time to upgrade its fundraising strategy over the coming year.
Kermit Ratzlaff, president of the Senior Center board, said the board is in the process of trying to hire someone to help develop and implement such a strategy.
“It’s going to take a lot of time on somebody’s part, and that’s why we’re looking for somebody to help,” Ratzlaff said. “Whether this (strategy) will pan out, we have no idea.
“Even if we take on this person,” he added, “it will take time for it to get going.”
During an extended discussion with Ratzlaff and other board members who accompanied him, councilors made it clear that the center needs to take responsibility for generating its own financial support.
“My thought is that there should be enough support for the Senior Center in Hillsboro to allow it to survive and do OK,” Watson said early in the discussion.
Council members expressed concern about the precedent that would be set for subsidizing a private organization with city funding.
Dirks asked, “What does this open up for other organizations to start asking the city to bail them out?”
City Administrator Larry Paine responded: “Any community-based organization within the confines of the city limits, I think, would feel free to come and talk to you and say, ‘I want a share of the city’s budget to help fund my operation.’
“It’s really a question that you folks (on the council) have, whether you want to have some sort of thing like that in your budget, now or ever, in order to sustain an operation like this.
“Obviously, you’ve got something (in the Senior Center) that is a good benefit to the community, but you’ve probably got hundreds of other organizations within the community that could say the very same thing. It ends up being a push-pull sort of thing in the long run.
“If (we) open the door, how do (we) shut that door so that everybody else in the community doesn’t get offended by the door closing?”
Declining tour revenue
The center’s funding issues have surfaced with a decline in royalty revenue from Sunflower Towers, which is owned by the Senior Center and was initiated and directed by Sam Baerg when he was the center’s director.
The royalties generated enough income in the early years to allow the Senior Center to put aside money in certificates of deposit—all of which have been cashed now.
Ratzlaff told the Free Press in an earlier interview that tour revenue has decreased from a high of $45,200 in 2000 to $12,000 in 2007.
Even with efforts to pare down its operating budget, the center experienced a shortfall of $8,500 in 2007 and was behind budget by about $3,900 through the first six months of 2008.
The center sponsors several fundraisers each year, the most recent one occurring one week before the council’s Sept. 2 meeting—a fact which only illustrated one of the problems the council identified. The mayor and council members said they hadn’t heard about that event.
“That’s key in your fundraising—letting the public know there is a need,” said Marler, who is employed as director of the non-profit Peabody Main Street Association.
“To be honest with you, until this (initial letter from the Senior Center) came across the desk, I had no idea there was any kind of difficulty—and I’m sure there were a lot of people who were the same way.
“Unfortunately, when you get in a bind, you’ve got to circle the wagons and let everybody know you’re in a bind. Of course, not everybody likes to do that, but it certainly helps with fundraising.”
Council members cited an article on the Senior Center’s financial situation in the Aug. 13 Free Press as being a likely reason the Senior Center raised an above-average amount at its recent fundraiser.
“We can’t have too many fundraisers, though, or the net result comes pretty close to zero,” Ratzlaff said.
“I understand—fundraising isn’t easy,” Marler said. “But to be in a financial predicament and say, ‘I don’t think it will work’—I don’t think you have the luxury of guessing whether something will work or not.
“I think it’s time to make things happen—either that or your alternative is to disappear. And nobody wants that. We don’t want that, the community doesn’t want that.
“Unfortunately, as it stands right now, it’s in a bit of a bind,” Marler added. “And you guys need to tap your resources a little more.
“I think you’d be surprised how many people are willing to support you who don’t even know you’re having fundraisers.”