The Haines Borough has taken over management of the senior center, at least for the short term. That decision came after meetings with the senior village board, which has cared for the center on a shoestring budget for years. The board voted unanimously last week to hand over the key to the borough. It is unclear who will manage the senior center long-term.
On a weekday in April, Ruth Fairall was eating lunch at the senior center with friends.
“I lost my husband 19 months ago and this gives me a reason to get out of the house,” she said. “I enjoy the companionship of all the people that are close to my age.”
Fairall is one of about 50 people who take lunch at the senior center on weekdays, according to Deb Vogt, the president of the senior village board.
“I think there are seven or eight tables that are full every day,” Vogt said.
The center also offers exercise classes, educational talks and game get-togethers. It’s also available for people to rent for events. For years, it’s the senior village board that has managed that. Vogt says they used to have a reserve that they drew on every year to help pay for the center.
“When our board started we had a fairly sizeable chunk of cushion, and we dipped into that every year to the tune of about $1,000 a year, because that was our deficit,” Vogt said. “And now that money’s gone and we’re broke.”
The board has paid for a small manager’s salary, utilities, and routine maintenance. Borough Manager Dave Sosa says the borough has handled ownership of the building, insurance and capital maintenance. He says that relationship has been in place since 1992.
“[Now] they don’t have the fiscal wherewithal to continue managing the facility,” Sosa said.
Vogt says the board’s financial ability became unsustainable for two reasons: one, they used up their reserve funds. Two, Anne Hanssen had managed the senior center for the small payment of $100 a month. When Valery McCandless took over that job recently, Vogt says, “we can’t ask that of any other manager, it’s just not sustainable.”
The board approached the borough more than a year ago initially asking for more financial help. At a meeting Thursday, the borough took over management. Vogt says that wasn’t exactly what the board wanted. But she says their treasurer wasn’t at Thursday’s meeting, so they didn’t have the ability to ask for a clear management fee.
“We didn’t have a clean, you know, we can make it if you pay us this [amount,]” Vogt said. “So they’re managing it at least until we can get those numbers together.”
“Basically since they didn’t know how much money they had, it made the most sense for the borough and them to sever the existing relationship so that we can deal with the facility while they figure out where they were with their finances,” Sosa said.
He says all of the existing rentals for the center will continue. That includes the agreement with the organization that provides senior lunch. On Friday, Sosa said he would sit down with his staff to figure out if they can accept new rentals.
Vogt says the current arrangement isn’t ideal, but it is a ‘relief’ for the borough to take responsibility for incoming bills that the board can’t pay.
“I don’t know how I feel about them managing it in the long run,” Vogt said.
Vogt hopes they can come to an agreement in which the board continues to care for the center, but with more substantial help from the borough. Sosa says he hopes they can decide on a permanent arrangement that works for the community, the seniors and the borough.
“Do I think that the borough staff can do as good a job [managing the senior center]? Probably not, because we have a bunch of other things we look at,” Sosa said. “So the sooner we can resolve this the better.”