Friday, August 14, 2009

The Finances of a Senior Center

A few thoughts after reading today's Daily News and Tom Salemi's blog:

Currently, the City has a General Fund Operating Budget of $46.6 Million. We spend $21.0 Million on the School Department, $3.0 Million for the Police Department, $2.9 Million for the Fire Department, $1.1 Million for the Library and $183,190 on Council of Aging services.

In terms of the operating budget after a Senior Center is built, there will be a slight increase but it is more likely in the several thousands range rather than the tens of thousands range. Of the $183,190 we spend on Council of Aging services, $14,000 is for rent of Salvation Army space. So assume the $14,000 goes into building operating costs and then add some additional funds for heating, cooling, and upkeep: we're still talking a pretty small operating cost annually. That marginal increase in cost will be offset by programming efficiencies from running services in one site versus rented and borrowed spaces.

The Senior Center construction is a one time cost.

The original $5 Million figure was based on a very simple feasibility study, which basically tested whether a Senior Center would fit on the site.

The current $6.8 Million ESTIMATE from the architect factors in what construction costs might be in three years (post recession) as well as plans to create a basement (with elevator) where in the future more space can be had without expanding the footprint. The Senior Center Building Committee wants to build the Center in a way which enhances the park and playground uses at Cushing Park, and not expand the footprint in 20 years when we will have more seniors living in Newburyport. I think Tom Salemi will then be in his mid-forties.

In terms of the capital outlay, the City has never been 'on the hook' for a certain amount of the capital cost of a Senior Center.

The path to funding this project has always included Federal, State, City (meaning you all and me voting for some amount of debt exclusion), and private donors---the funding mix percentages have always been uncertain. See my post from over a year ago:

The more successful the private fundraising and grant writing, the smaller will be the local burden. Now that the design phase is completed, the private fundraising needs to begin. That will take some time, then we'll see what is needed from the City side. Mayor Moak has consistently said that the City (ie we taxpayers) would have to kick in if this is to happen. Newburyport voters have approved what they have seen as necessary capital projects in the past: Library, High School, Police Station.

My own guess is that a debt exclusion of $1 to 2 Million might be acceptable to voters; more than that would be a difficult sell. As with any debt exclusion or override, the voters have the final say in how their tax dollars are spent.

Whether NBPT voters will approve this down the road, whether the Friends of the Council on Aging are able to find donors, whether the Commonwealth's Dept of Housing and Community Development would approve a substantial grant from CDBG, whether our elected Federal officials can direct funding to this project-----all remains to be seen.

What is clear to me is a Senior Center is an important vehicle for basic services and programming for isolated and vulnerable seniors---there are a lot of these folks living here. You might be surprised. I think it's the least we can do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just read the article about the Towle project being up for sale at 3 million dollars. Could one of the houses on the property be fitted appropriately as a senior center? The rest of the property could be sold off in better economic climate. This may be naive but thought worth noting.
I am not suggesting that this would be preferable but it is a nice location and can be integrated with the walk ways into the city core.