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Mount Si Senior Center braces for cuts

Juanita Edwin of North Bend stretches during the Huff and Puff exercise class Wednesday morning, Nov. 18, at Mount Si Senior Center. In the midst of a remodel, the center is faced with a second year of budget cuts but managed to keep some funding from cash-strapped King County. - Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Juanita Edwin of North Bend stretches during the Huff and Puff exercise class Wednesday morning, Nov. 18, at Mount Si Senior Center. In the midst of a remodel, the center is faced with a second year of budget cuts but managed to keep some funding from cash-strapped King County.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Faced with halved funds from King County’s Human Services budget in 2010, the Mount Si Senior Center is looking at a new round of belt-tightening.

The North Bend center is expected to get about $24,500 in funding from the county next year, under the council’s proposed budget. Councilwoman and budget team leader Kathy Lambert, who voted with the council on the county budget on Thursday, Nov. 19, said she had to battle to get funds for senior centers in North Bend and Carnation.

County Executive Kurt Triplett’s office initialy called for the $24,500 amount to go to the center, but a later plan would have eliminated it.

“I fought to keep the money,” Lambert said.

With the county cutting 84 percent of its Human Services budget, Mount Si Senior Center and the Sno-Valley Senior Center in Carnation are among the few centers that get any county funding next year.

“We had to go back to the very, very basics,” Lambert said.

The county made $56 million in cuts for 2010, following a $93 million budget cut last year.

To keep funding for the centers, Lambert touted their rural focus and important role in the lives of county residents.

“Senior centers are such a focal point of the health of our seniors,” she said.

Tough cuts

Funds from the county and local cities are the backbone of the Mount Si Senior Center budget. The drop in county funding cuts the center’s overall budget by eight percent, and follows a $10,000 county cut in 2008.

“Am I happy, about this? No,” Center Director Ruth Tolmasoff said. “Am I happy about getting $24,000? You betcha.”

That said, Tolmasoff didn’t play down the importance of the cuts.

“It won’t be business as usual, that’s for sure,” she said. “There’s not a lot to tighten. We don’t want to start right off by cutting staff, but if it becomes clear that we’re not going to make it without that, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Ultimately, that could mean shorter schedules for the center’s two paid staff, Tolmasoff and program director Jan Fosness — which leads to a less well-organized senior center and fewer opportunities to develop new programs, such as evening classes aimed at retiring baby boomers.

“It’s going to have a cumulative effect,” Tolmasoff said. “We’re going to come out way in the hole by the end of the year.”

Modest spending reductions would come in the new year, with the center never spending a penny on extras.

“We would be getting all of our office supplies from hotels and drug companies,” Tolmasoff said. “All of our pens will be labeled.”

To make up for lost funds, the senior center will rely heavily on its own fundraisers.

Two major benefits and several auctions are planned. The center’s thrift store will also step up.

Without the thrift store, the future would be very bleak, Tolmasoff said. Opened just a few years ago, it is now the center’s biggest fundraiser, providing 20 percent of the budget.

Tolmasoff stressed that the center’s $428,000 King County Community Block Grant, being used to pay for a remodel this fall, is separate from operating funds. That money can’t be used to provide a financial foundation for the center.

“It can only be used for capital projects,” she said. “If you want to make improvements to a senior center, that’s the money source to go after.”

Private funding for senior centers is hard to come by, and like the block grant, usually pays for enrichment, not the baseline.

“Grant sources you can apply to for older adults are really limited compared to children,” Tolmasoff said. “We don’t want to compete with the kids’ money, but there’s just not the same number of places we can go to. Most places don’t want to give money to keep your doors open.”

Growth ahead

The budget is dwindling in an era when the senior population is growing.

“We’re facing this huge increase in the number of (older) adults as baby boomers age,” Tolmasoff said. “We’re going to need programs and facilities that meet their needs.”

Aiming to provide a social safety net for that group, the center had hoped to expand evening offerings for working seniors and satellite facilities.

“One of the most important things that people need as they age is a social network,” Tolmasoff said. “It’s not easy to make friends at any age. A lot of our folks’ kids have moved away. Or, sometimes it’s the opposite — they move to be closer to their kids. Mom and dad are left to establish new relationships.”

With the senior center undergoing its remodel this fall, senior center staff urge members to continue to for lunch, classes and activities and keep attendance numbers up.

Completion of the remodel is expected this winter.

Fundraiser

Mount Si Senior Center will hold a Christmas Dance fundraiser, 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5. The event includes dancing from 8 to 10 p.m., with live music provided by local bandleader Harley Brumbaugh, and an introductory dance lesson by Lupe Finch of Dance All Night. Cost is $10 per person, or $5 for senior center members.

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