Chisago commissioners vote against funding senior center in 2013

Second vote on issue falls in line with first; ‘It’s not over,’ says chairman


Derrick Knutson
ECM Post Review

A contingent of seniors showed up at the Chisago County Board meeting Oct. 3 to express 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 of $30,000 to the senior center at Uptown Maple Commons in North Branch. Commissioners George McMahon, Ben Montzka and Rick Greene voted to make the cut, while 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, 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.”

Walker seconded his motion.

“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, noting the county might be able to match any grants obtained by the senior center.

Greene said if the county provided financial backing to the senior center, grant money likely wouldn’t come in.

“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 holding firm in their stance from the prior month.

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

Like Walker, he mentioned the pursuit of grants or other alternative funding sources.

“I’d like to remind everyone that this program is not going to end today or tomorrow,” he 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. Dawn Cash, executive director/coordinator of the senior center, also took her case to the podium.

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…[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 lone senior to spoke in favor of the board’s decision. The longtime Hennepin County employee noted that most counties do not support senior centers the way Chisago County has.

Chisago County Administrator Bruce Messelt said he surveyed 87 counties as to whether they provide financial support to senior centers. Of 38 counties that responded, 28 reported no financial support is given, while five counties reported support of less than $10,000. Four counties – Isanti, Itasca, Winona and Mower – budgeted $25,000 or more to support senior center activities.