Burlington Senior Center Manager Gail Boydstun (center) talks with Shirley Hammes (from left), Jim Cramer, Joyce Dries and John Brensinger during a game of pinochle at the center last summer. Boydstun is working to create revenue streams for the organization that just completed its first year in a new facility. (Photo by Ed Nadolski)

City grants center rent-free status in 2018-19

The Burlington Senior Center underwent a turbulent, and triumphant, initial year at the former Knights of Columbus building in 2018.

On May 1, the Common Council rejected a lease agreement on a 4-2 decision that would have allowed the Senior Center to remain in the building rent-free for 2018.

The stunning rejection drew the ire of former Alderman Tom Vos, who witnessed to the city’s decision to acquire the property from Racine County.

“All of our seniors played a part in the community and they paid their fair share in taxes,” Vos said during public comments on May 15. “I am absolutely astonished that you could not help them become successful.”

At the May 15 meeting, following the Vos’ remarks and a stern lecture from Mayor Jeannie Hefty, the Common Council changed its stance by accepting the lease agreement on 6-1 decision following a closed session.

City Administrator Carina Walters said the city drafted the rent-free lease, at least initially, to allow the seniors time to build its revenue streams and gauge expenditures in their new building.

By November, when Senior Center officials presented the organization’s financial outlook to the Common Council, the city decided to allow another rent-free year in 2019.

“When I went to the council meeting, I gave them all of this information and we talked about it being difficult for seniors to basically contribute a dollar or two to be able to come here with all of them being on a fixed income,” said Senior Center Administrator Gail Boydstun.

“It would make it very difficult for them to attend if we all of sudden started increasing fees in order to pay rent.”

Boydstun, meanwhile, states the program still faces a daunting task to improve its new facility, which was formerly the Knights of Columbus hall.

Hefty said in November facility improvements have been an ongoing effort for the Senior Center since it opened in January 2018.

“It was not even a year, we are getting close to a year in January over at the present senior center,” Hefty said.

“Any time you make a major move like that, there are a lot of moving parts going on just to get settled in it and get things ready for people.”

Moving parts included upgrading the restroom to meet ADA guidelines, installing windows and adding new flooring, with the last two items coming from community contributions.

Hefty said Burlington Glass installed the windows while Ketters Flooring added new flooring.

In 2019, Boydstun plans to seek grants to help offset future capital improvement projects.

“I am going to be pursuing in 2019 some various different grants to see if we can get grants to pay for repairs, redo the roof and the parking lot, the heating and the air conditioning,” she said.

District 3 Alderman Jon Schultz II, the lone opponent of the lease decision, said he voted against it because of the potential burden on local taxpayers.

Schultz, however, supports the senior center’s efforts to find grants.

“Again, the point is not to make money off the program, so if they get grant money – so ultimately the city taxpayers aren’t covering this – that accomplishes the original goal. In fact I would be thrilled if they did that, because it eases the pressure off them while still protecting taxpayers,” Schultz said in an email.

To read the entire list of the Standard Press’ Top 20 News Stories of 2018, see the Jan. 3 edition of the newspaper.