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Senior center job restored to city budget

The Rambling River Center board won its tug of war with the Farmington City Council over an eliminated part-time position. The position will be reinstated through an existing city employee starting next month.

The decision held up the approval of the 2016 budget and 4.9 percent tax levy increase at the Dec. 7 city council meeting. The council and the RRC board haggled during a subsequent work session over where in the budget to find the needed $22,000 to cover the position during a subsequent work session.

“We’re happy to have it for the city’s sake,” said Blanche Reichert, of Farmington. She attended the work session to support the center and warned that seniors would go elsewhere if they could not get their needs met in town.

The city eliminated the position to tighten its belt in preparation for upcoming debt payments and other expenses expected to put the city $700,000 in the red in 2017. City administrator David McKnight warned that another tax raise of at least 7 percent may come in 2017 to help cover costs. The city’s current debt was set to be staired through 2019, meaning the payments go up as the debt nears its end.

“We’re going to have to prioritize what we do, with a $700,000 hole to fill,” he said.

The city has been downsizing, eliminating 19.5 positions since 2006 in order to balance its budget.

The Rambling River Center, a city-subsidized program for senior citizens, lost its assistant in March when she left to work at city hall and the part-time position was cut. Since that time, the board has been lobbying for a replacement,even offering to pay up to $11,000 for two years and forego their own stipends for a total of $1,680. The city’s portion of $149,166 pays for the utility bills, building rent and employee salaries for the center, supplied, in part, by membership fees. All other needs, such as furniture, are supplied through fundraising.

The council was unwilling to take the money from the RRC. They did not want to raise membership fees or fees for the center’s newsletter. They were reluctant to use 2015 budget money to hire the assistant, only to cut the position in the next budget cycle.

A compromise was reached in which a current city employee would spend half of his time working at the RRC. As of Monday, McKnight had not yet chosen a position to cost share with the center.

“I’m happy with it,” said council member Terry Donnelly. “We have a solution.”

The city council passed the levy and 2016 budget with all but council member Tim Pitcher voting in favor. Pitcher voted no, in keeping with his earlier objections about raising taxes in general.