Hillsboro Senior Center looking to city for revenue subsidy

A steep decline in a traditional revenue source has prompted the board of the Hills?boro Senior Center to ask the city of Hills?boro to subsidize its operation next year.

But with the city facing some belt-tightening of its own, the prospect of adopting the center?s $28,000 request appears slim, according to the mayor.

?The reason we are asking the city for assistance is that our income is less than our expenses, even though we try to be frugal in our disbursements,? said Kermit Ratzlaff, president of the Senior Center board.

Over the past three years, the Senior Center has pared its operating budget from $39,000 to $35,300, but the operating shortfall has increased from $3,000 to $8,500 over the same period, Ratzlaff said.

Services for seniors

The Hillsboro Senior Center provides seniors with social interaction, health and financial advice as well as basic medical services such as foot care and blood-pressure checks at its facility at 212 N. Main. Volunteers also provide transportation to local appointments as needed.

But the center?s primary service is to provide a nutritious noon meal five days a week. In 2007, the center served an average of 43 meals each day, including several delivered to private homes by volunteers.

The Kansas Area Agencies on Aging, a state program, covers the cost of the food, which is $2.75 per meal. The center is responsible to pay for other expenses. At the Hillsboro center, that includes the salaries of its manager and part-time assistants, plus utilities, insurance and general supplies.

Revenue sources

To generate funds to offset those expenses, Ratzlaff said the center sponsors several fund?raisers each year, including carry-in dinners and socials. Volunteers from the center insert advertising flyers each week at the Free Press for a donation by the business.

But the center?s primary revenue source over the years has been Sunflower Tours, a bus-tour business begun in 1981 by Sam Baerg, who was the Senior Center director at the time.

Even after Baerg?s departure, the local center has maintained a contractual arrangement to receive royalties from the business. Revenues were sufficient in past years to enable the center not only to pay its expenses, but invest in certificates of deposit.

But Ratzlaff said tour revenue has gone from a high of $45,200 in 2000 to $12,100 in 2007.

?Over the past few years, when income was less than expenses, we were able to bank on cashing a CD,? Ratzlaff said. ?The last CD was cashed last year (2007).?

The center has about $13,000 left in its treasury, Ratzlaff added. The budget shortfall in 2007 was around $8,500; through the first six months of 2008, expenses have exceeded revenue by about $3,900.

The center has tried to offset the loss of bus-tour revenue beyond traditional fundraisers. Although the policy of the Area Agencies on Aging is that centers not ask participants to pay for the noon lunches, the local center has been encouraging a ?tip? of $1 per meal.

?The treasurer has figured up that it actually costs the senior center $2.32 (above the cost of the meal itself) to cover our expenses,? Ratzlaff said. ?We ask them to pay a good-sized tip for every meal.?

Ratzlaff said the board is concerned that support for its fundraisers comes primarily from the clientele the center serves, and that it won?t be able to sustain the level of support into the future.

City subsidy

As an alternative, Ratzlaff said the Senior Center board decided to ask the city to subsidize its operation.

?We?ve looked at the assistance the city is giving to other good causes,? he said, referring to line items for the local golf course, museums and recreation program.

?As we look at that list, in some cases it seems to be a very significant amount,? he added. ?The Senior Center would certainly be eligible for assistance for the same reason.

?The percentage of seniors in the county, and likewise in Hillsboro, is relatively high,? Ratzlaff said. ?Seniors own homes, they pay taxes. Even though their income is adequate, and they?re not dependent on the senior center, as they get older it becomes more difficult to stay connected. There?s a tendency to get somewhat isolated.?

Ratzlaff said having a strong Senior Center is an asset for the city.

?Seniors are moving here from other places, and the attraction would be less for seniors to come here if we didn?t have certain facilities for seniors, one of which would be a senior center.?

City response

The city declined to include the Senior Center?s request in its initial 2009 budget. After Ratz?laff stated his concern about that decision at the budget hearing on Aug. 5, the council agreed to review the matter before making a final determination.

Mayor Delores Dalke expressed personal support for the Senior Center late last week, but said she does not believe the city can afford an additional budget item even as its own financial belt is tightening.

?We published a budget that went up 10 mills (from around 40 to 50)?which we do not intend to allow to happen because the council does not feel our community can afford more taxes,? she said.

In fact, the city has been scaling back its own programs in an effort to bring the mill levy back to the 40-mill range it has maintained over the past 10 years, Dalke said.

?We are looking at every program this year to see what we can keep and how much we can put there,? she said. ?Not everybody is getting what they have gotten in the past.?

She agreed that the Senior Center is an asset for Hillsboro.

?It?s not that we don?t want the Senior Center here,? she said. ?We think it?s an important part of our community. But how many things can the taxpayers of Hillsboro pay for?

?It seems like every time somebody needs money, they just go to the city, and there?s this big bucket of money that we can always get into.

?That bucket of money is not as large as it used to be be,? Dalke added. ?We have used up some of our reserves already, and we are looking at even cutting some other programs to keep the budget where it should be.?

The citycouncil will approve the 2009 budget at its Aug. 19 meeting.

Ratzlaff, meanwhile, did not say the center would be forced to close its doors if the city turns down its subsidy request. But the decision would increase the pressure on the board to come up with more fundraisers, and for center participants to reach deeper into their own pockets.

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