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Senior Centers looking to stretch dollars

As lawmakers grapple with the state’s budget problems, local senior citizen centers make preparations for cuts in their funding.

All of the county’s four senior centers receive money from the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services, which faces $11 million in budget cuts. The Home and Community Grants portion of that department is facing a 13 percent cut, or $1,314,131, and provides funding for senior centers and their Meals on Wheels program.

The cuts will go into effect July 1, the start of the next fiscal year, and while there will almost certainly be cuts, the actual amounts are unknown.

About 40 percent of the Farmington Senior Center’s operating money comes from the state and federal government. The federal money is given to the state, and the state then distributes the money accordingly.

The center is bracing for a cut of $13,800 from this year’s budget. The center’s operating budget is a little more than $200,000, according to director Mona Yates.

Yates estimates the center will have to raise a total of $22,000 this year, which includes the $8,000 to $10,000 they have to raise every year.

“And there’s no way we can reach that,” Yates said.

The center has already held five fund-raisers this month for the current fiscal year, and Yates has written a letter she plans to mail to “prime people,” asking for donations, as well as the Farmington Chamber of Commerce.

“It seems like we’re fund-raising all the time,” said Yates.

Unlike the other three senior centers in the county, Farmington faces the additional strain of a building payment since it moved to its new location two years ago. Previously the center used the Farmington Middle School to provide meals to its clientele.

“We’re just going to have to be more conservative with our shopping and our meal preparation,” Yates said.

Yates doesn’t believe, at this point, the center will have to refuse to serve or deliver to people, saying most of the center’s cut-backs will be “behind the scenes.” One example is limiting the hours that paid employees work, along with taking money out of the budget for travel expenses to in-state conferences on senior programming.

Park Hills Senior Center Administrator Holly Buxton said her center stands to lose $14,500 in state money, which comprises a large portion of the center’s funding. Despite the cuts, Buxton is optimistic about the center’s future.

“I don’t think we’ll have to cut back on meals,” Buxton said. “I think we’re going to be fine this year.”

Buxton points to a small carry over in money from last year’s budget to help the center continue its different programs, such as Meals on Wheels.

About $8,000 of the center’s $150,000 budget comes from fund-raising for the center.

“We need the state,” Buxton said. “We couldn’t make it on our own.”

The center delivers an average of 144 meals to peoples’ homes every day, serving around 40 meals at the center.

Bismarck Senior Center is expecting a little more than $10,000 in cuts, but like her peers, Administrator Carol Boren said the center will just look for ways to save money instead of stopping services.

One way Boren plans to make the center’s funding go farther is by buying cleaning supplies from the newly-opened Dollar General Store in Bismarck. Boren hopes to save money by cutting back on utilities as well, but not on the quality of food they serve at the center.

“We always serve the best quality of meat, so that’s not going to change,” Boren said.

The center held seven fund-raisers last year, “and this year we’ll probably have to have more,” Boren said. A chicken and dumpling dinner is the center’s next fund-raiser, planned for this Sunday.

“They (state) don’t really send enough for us to run this place,” Boren said. “So we rely a lot on the public.”

The cuts are the worst the center has experienced in her three years as administrator, Boren said, but no matter how bad it gets, Boren “won’t turn anyone away.”

“We’re trying, at least. I don’t know what the future brings, I really don’t,” Boren said. “But we’re going to stay open as long as we can. I just hope we can make it.”

Joe Brekel, president of the Bonne Terre Senior Center’s Site Council, said his center will be able to continue normal operations despite the cuts.

“We go through this all the time when they (the state) run out of money,” Brekel said. “That’s why we have our fund-raisers.”

The senior center will host a barbecue on May 10, with their biggest fund-raiser being the Miles for Meals walkathon in September.

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