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Farmington City Council considers cuts at senior center

When Rambling River Center moved to its location on Oak Street in 2009, members pledged to raise $90,000 in five years to help pay for a renovation that turned the old city hall building into a new senior center. They reached that financial goal in April.

But now, some Farmington City Council members wonder whether there are ways to trim Rambling River Center's projected $165,500-plus budget. Among the ideas voiced during a Monday workshop was a suggestion to close the current site, and moving programs to Farmington City Hall. Another involved moving ahead with a plan suggested in 2009 to use the Rambling River Center building as a teen center in the evening.

Either way, council members want to get more bang for their buck.

"I think we have to ask ourselves, 'Are we okay with spending that kind of money for the senior center?'" council member Julie May said.

Right now, the Rambling River Center has 403 paid members, at $25 per member for Farmington residents. Members outside city pay slightly more. In addition, the building's fitness center has 60 paid memberships, at a cost of $30 per person. Last year, Distad said, there were 430 members of Rambling River Center.

Given that, council member Jason Bartholomay suggested moving the center to the vacant space on the second floor of Farmington City Hall.

"It would be a shame to sell the building after all that time and effort to raise money for it," Distad said in response. "But that's just my opinion."

The senior center budget includes $80,607 in personnel funding for 2013, and $82,572 for the following year. The salaries are broken out between Rambling River Center coordinator Missie Kohlbeck's position and a 20-hour per week position. Technically, Distad said, half of Kohlbeck's salary comes out of the Rambling River Center budget, and the other half is allocated under the park and rec program fund because she runs several city parks programs. Volunteers do much of the work around the center. Total volunteer hours are equal to two full-time positions, he added.

May flagged the personnel costs as a concern.

"It comes down to labor," she said. "We're spending a lot of money for a very small segment of the population."

Kohlbeck pointed out that the building is used as more than just a senior center. It has a community gathering space that is rented out. Support groups use some of the space on occasion. During tax season there are volunteer tax preparers on site to help seniors with their taxes. Those people aren't necessarily members, she said, but they benefit from the facility.

In 2009, council members discussed using the building as a senior center by day and a teen center in the evening. May and council member Christy Jo Fogarty are still interested in expanding the building's use to include the teen center.

But doing that would mean creating a new budget item, Kohlbeck said, which was the same problem that was presented three years ago. Operating more programs out of the building would mean bringing on more staff to chaperone and to run programs. It would also require purchasing teen-friendly equipment -- more than the widescreen television and Wii game system included in the budget a few years ago.

"I want to see creative ways to do (the addition of a teen center) without a lot of extra money," Fogarty said.

Mayor Todd Larson said he was comfortable with the senior center's budget, but that he would like to see increased fundraising activities and a few more membership drives to help defray some of the costs associated with running the building.

Council members also looked at other parks and recreation budgets during Monday's work session. They discussed the future of the outdoor pool, which was built in 1969. A new roof is needed on the bathhouse and is included in the coming year's budget. Before long, Distad told council, they will have to decide the pool's future, as it is becoming outdated and will be in need of significant upgrades in a few years.

The Farmington City Council will look at the engineering and community development department budgets at their next budget workshop, Aug. 13.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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