Ham Lake Senior Center Board wants to see make-up of new council

The Ham Lake Senior Center Board president said the board would wait to
see the make-up of the Ham Lake City Council after the Nov. 4 election
before continuing negotiations on a new senior center contract.

by Eric Hagen
Staff writer

The Ham Lake Senior Center Board president said the board would wait to see the make-up of the Ham Lake City Council after the Nov. 4 election before continuing negotiations on a new senior center contract.

The contract that exists between the city of Ham Lake, which owns the senior center building, and the non-profit organization Ham Lake Senior Center, Inc., which leases the space, is being rewritten.

There are many points to negotiate, but the biggest change would be that the city and not the non-profit organization would collect the rental revenue. The preliminary 2009 budget estimates rental revenue collected next year by the city would equal $35,000.

The council May 19 gave direction to change the contract with a 3-2 vote. Councilmembers Julie Braastad, Gary Kirkeide and Jolynn Erikson voted to change the contract. Mayor Paul Meunier and Councilmember Diane Theodorski voted to keep the existing contract.

Erikson and Kirkeide’s council terms expire after this year. Erikson has chosen to not file for re-election and Kirkeide has filed. There are three other candidates for the two at-large four-year term seats. They are Tom Johnson, Tom Paulson and Farrell Tuohy.

Senior center board president Harry Hibben said the board is waiting until after the election because it hopes to have candidates on the council favorable to its position to have the senior center organization continue to collect the rental revenue.

“They’re basically cutting the legs from under us,” Hibben said of the majority of the current council. “They don’t quite see it that way.”

Kirkeide said it’s important to get a solid funding mechanism for the senior center that takes off the financial pressure.

The senior center does not only receive revenue from hall rentals though. In 2007, hall rentals equaled $25,360.05. Fund-raising equaled $18,190.56.

Senior Center Coordinator Jeannine Meyer said there would still be a need for fund-raising in the future.

“It’s $4,000 to $5,000 a year for a food handler alone for the meals,” she said.

Volunteers of America (VOA) is a separate identity that handles the meals and the senior center organization reimburses it.

Kirkeide said it would be up to the senior center to decide what level of fund-raisers it still chooses to do and the senior center organization would still be responsible for covering the costs of the meal service and transportation like it does now.

From what Paulson has seen, he believes the existing contract was working and he would want the agreement to be satisfactory for the city and seniors, but he believes the senior center organization should continue to collect the rental revenue.

“I would like to see the seniors collect rental revenue and I’d like to see the seniors manage the senior center as they have in the past,” Paulson said.

Johnson is a certified public accountant (CPA) and has been the accountant for the Ham Lake Senior Center since 2003, he told ABC Newspapers.

Johnson said he has not had a chance to review the new contract proposal, but from what he can determine, the city collecting rent would be fairly revenue neutral for the senior center because it would go from the seniors collecting the revenue and accruing the expenses to the city collecting the revenue and incurring the expenses.

“I think a lot of time and effort has been put into something and I’m not sure it’s accomplishing a lot from the city’s perspective,” Johnson said.

According to the city’s preliminary 2009 budget, the city would increase its senior center budget from $83,025 in 2008 to $119,175 in 2009. The city would cover the part-time wages for operating the rentals and it would pay the custodial expenses, advertising, mileage, supplies and training costs.

Another aspect of the senior center contract is what group gets priority at what time. The seniors would get use of the facility over half the time, but the council members who want to revise the contract hope to make the facility easily available to other community organizations to make it more of a community center.

Tuohy said from what he has heard, the seniors feel their concerns are not being heard and wonder whether the city will take full control of the senior center.

“The seniors are extremely concerned what the future holds for them,” Tuohy said.

Hibben said there will be a candidate forum from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21 at the senior center where council candidates will answer questions on the senior center issue and other issues of concern from audience members.

Hibben said all four council candidates would be invited to this forum.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com.

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