SOUNDOFF: Why seniors must pay some fees

Cities, counties and the state are all experiencing budget woes in 2003 that are expected to continue in 2004 and 2005. Ballot initiatives together with the faltering economy have led to severe budget cuts that governments must face. Your senior center in Oak Harbor is funded by the city of Oak Harbor, Island County and membership and program revenues.

The Senior Center Advisory Board of 13 members represents all facets of the community who are appointed by the mayor of Oak Harbor. A number of months back the board looked at the three to five year financial forecast. In order to continue a viable offering of programs and services to our members and avoid any disruption and/or partial closure, the board reviewed a variety of budget options. Center rental policy and schedule of charges were reviewed and updated; the volunteer program and offerings were reviewed, and a totally new membership plan was adopted.

The essential highlights of the new plan that was presented and approved by city council, are as follows:

l The basic participating membership of $15 will be made mandatory and valid from the date of issue.

l Voluntary sustaining membership categories will be $25, $50, $100 and $250. Each category will include appropriate levels of recognition. Upgrades in membership support can be made at any time.

l New participants will be offered a free week to acquaint themselves with center services and facilities.

l No membership fee will be charged to persons or organizations renting the facility.

l The center director may waive a membership requirement for those persons establishing indigency need.

l Membership will not be required for programs offered by Senior Services of Island County, such as information and referral and the meal programs as well as classes by Skagit Valley College and government agency programs.

Senior Centers that operate totally with volunteers have memberships of less than 200. In a 2001 annual report the Oak Harbor Senior Center registered 1,674 unduplicated members with another 1,472 users who were non-members. The report also shows a 2001 attendance count of 32,395. Many uses go unreported.

Currently, the senior center is managed by two professional staff, a director and a program director. They are supported by some 157 volunteers who give 13,213 hours annually. If these volunteers were paid minimum wage, the payroll would be $94,472. The center could not be run without volunteers.

Professional staff are needed to develop short and long range goals, prepare and manage an annual budget, develop a facility maintenance schedule, plan, develop program classes, trips and tours, special services and special events. They also must enlist, train, supervise, schedule and recognize a large volunteer program to name a few tasks. They are also available to address personal concerns and operational crises. The Daybreak adult day care facility would not have been realized without the guidance, supervision and research of professional staff.

Further information is being developed to help interpret the new membership plan. Watch for complete information. Additional concerns may be addressed to the advisory board or directly to staff.

Bill Cornell is chairman of the Oak Harbor Senior Center Advisory Board.

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