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Senior Activity Center searching for funds



Sequim Senior Activity Center director Michael Smith is displeased that Sequim City Council denied the center two years in a row for grant funding. He asked for $10,500 this year for low-income seniors to receive memberships. Smith said the center’s projected budget was $55,000 short in 2009 but it hosts three times the activities compared to five years ago. He plans to attend more city council meetings and read more seniors’ letters during public comments to let councilors know about the center’s need and impact. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

For the second year, the Sequim Senior Activity Center was denied grant money from Sequim City Council's health and human services funds.

Annually, nonprofits request money from the council, which in turn authorizes United Way of Clallam County to compare grant candidates to the council's criteria before approval at a city council meeting.

Michael Smith, executive director of the center, requested $10,500 and changed his request from 2009 so that money could fund memberships for low-income seniors who could not afford them.

The council changed its criteria in 2009 saying monies must support the poor or infirm.

Last year, Smith asked for $15,000 with funds going to general operations.

He said if granted the full amount in 2010, it would have helped 300 seniors become members.

Funds approved

The city council approved the nonprofits' funding on March 8 by a 5-1 vote. Erik Erichsen voted no. Councilor Ted Miller abstained because of the appearance of a conflict of interest. He was a director on the center's board but later resigned so he could discuss and vote on future issues in the council.

The city's $49,000 went to:

_ Dungeness Valley Health Clinic, $10,000 for health and dental care access

_ Healthy Families, $9,000 for mental health support of domestic violence victims

_ Family Planning of Clallam County, $5,000 for health care access

_ First Step Family Support Center, $5,000 for early childhood development

_ Olympic Community Action Programs, $5,000 for oral health care, including children at Sequim's Head Start program

_ Peninsula Community Mental Health Center, $5,000 for mental health services for an outpatient clinic in

Sequim and a summer program for at-risk youth

_ Serenity House, $5,000 to help prevent homelessness

_ Volunteer Chore Services, $5,000 for seniors and disabled for safety and transportation to improve/maintain independent living

The city grants United Way a 2-percent administration fee of $1,000 each year.

Snap and Parenting Matters were other groups not granted funds.

Past partnership

The city of Sequim partnered with the Sequim Senior Actvity Center from 1972-1992, allowing it to host operations in a building near the transit center rent-free.

Smith said the center has received no city support since 1992, when the center moved to 921 E. Hammond St.

Some city councilors said after approving the other groups' funding that supporting the senior center was something they wanted to do similarly to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula.

Smith said he wished the city supported the center fiscally rather than with words.

"We could have done a lot more with $10,500, but any amount would have helped," he said.

"We've been paid lip service before."

Options from Miller

Miller said he sees a few options with helping the center:

_ Putting to a local vote a district similar to the one that operates the Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center, which extends beyond city limits, to fund it

_ Budgeting money as it does for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula through general contingency funds

_ Stopping support for nonprofits

"I think the consensus is that the senior center needs some funding," Miller said.

"The current senior center is inadequate. The people are wonderful and deserve better."

Budget coherency

On an applicant summary provided to the council, United Way showed the assets of each applicant group.

The center's assets showed $843,620.

Smith said this amount equals the building, a parking lot across the street, the center bus and items such as furniture.

"Even if our building was worth $2 million, it wouldn't mean we'd have more money in the bank," Smith said.

As of Friday, March 12, Smith said the center had about $5,000 in checking and slightly less than $100,000 in savings.

If funding ceased, he said reserves would last about five months.

Last year, the center fell $55,000 short of its projected budget of $285,000.

This year's budget is projected at $271,800.

Cutting costs

"We're trying to cut back by lowering our costs and expenses," Smith said.

"We're treading water. Every month we come close to dipping into our reserves."

Income from the center comes from donations and activity fees.

Annual memberships cost $35 per year per person but cost the center about $200, Smith said.

The center hasn't receiv-ed a grant in more than two years.

There are 1,495 members and more than 1,000 nonmembers who use the facilities.

Members receive a monthly newsletter and $1 discount on each activity. Smith said many members participate five days a week in different activities, so membership saves people money.

Life memberships

During a former director's tenure, life memberships at $200 were enacted, with more than 100 of those still active.

"We appreciate the support of our life members, many of whom are in their 90s, for making the center what it is today," Smith said.

"We don't do lifetime memberships anymore because we need the annual income."

Despite losing out on immediate funding from the city, Smith said the center still is reaching out to low-income seniors.

"We haven't raised dues in three years," he said.

"We don't want to price people out of their own senior center."

For those in need, a membership sponsorship fund was established for donations and recipients.

Smith said membership helps the center and the individual because of cheaper rates for activities.

Anyone can become a member of the Sequim Senior Activity Center but to be a voting member and/or board member, a person must be at least 50.

Smith recommends people sign up for activities often and donate items between noon-

4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning April 6 for their fifth benefit sale, which runs Aug. 5-6.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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