Board members from the Columbus Senior Center program met with City Council members Feb. 8 to address a lease agreement that governs the senior group’s use of city space.
The agreement is due for renewal soon, as the lease’s initial three-year term began in April 2014. The senior center board had decided then to end the program’s operation as a function of the annual city budget. The senior program got its start with federal grant funds in 1982.
The existing lease has called for the senior program to pay annual rent of $3,600 to the city for use of the community center space adjacent to council chambers. The rent has been offset by a share of annual community funds that Columbus receives from Running Aces Harness Park.
The senior program has also reimbursed the city for utilities along with 25 percent of costs related to trash pickup and septic services.
Officers from the program questioned the council about the rent agreement, stating they had heard senior programs in other nearby communities were using public space at no charge. City Attorney Bill Griffith replied that Columbus officials are following legal requirements to charge a “reasonable rent” for the group’s use of city space.
“Otherwise, we would be subject to a taxpayer (law)suit,” Griffith said.
The visiting senior board members noted that their group meets for lunch and social activities once per week in the city building, which is down from two weekly gatherings they were holding at the start of the lease.
There are 55 members paying annual dues, but the officers stated many members are absent during winter months. They saw attendance of just 20 people for a recent lunch, at $5 per plate, which reportedly left the program about $100 short of its costs for the day.
The officers said there are several maintenance needs in their space, including stripping and wax work for the tile flooring along with replacement of the Venetian blinds. They also suggested the kitchen and other rooms are due for a commercial cleaning, and that the walls could stand to be repainted. City Administrator Elizabeth Mursko said the current paint job was part of an Eagle Scout project at the site around 2008.
All of the maintenance needs would come with costs that would be difficult for the senior program to cover alone, the officers said. They reported a recent estimate of $2,200 for stripping and waxing the floors.
Council directed staff to do further research on costs for senior space improvements, and they suggested some of the work could be handled by community volunteers that support the seniors. Councilman Bill Krebs said that he and his wife would be willing to cover costs for paint and to organize volunteers for doing that job.
There was some council discussion on possibly reducing the rent down from what currently equals a $300 monthly fee. Staff noted that the city paid about $2,600 in its lease obligations for the senior space in 2016, including insurance premiums and repair costs for kitchen appliances such as a stove and refrigerator.