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Mount Carmel proposes 43.3 percent cut to Senior Center contribution

Jeff Bobo • Jun 13, 2019 at 2:05 PM

MOUNT CARMEL – The Mount Carmel Senior Center has saved approximately $50,000 toward purchasing a new handicapped accessible van, which would ordinarily be a reason for celebration.

During a Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen budget workshop last week, however, it was among the reasons discussed for cutting the Senior Center's municipal contribution.

In 2017-18 Mount Carmel's independent non-profit Senior Center received a $36,000 municipals contribution.

But with budget woes and the 29 cent property tax increase approved for 2018-19, the Senior Center's contribution was cut to $30,000.

Heading into the BMA's June 4 budget workshop last week the Senior Center was slated for another cut down to $25,000 in the proposed 2019-20 budget.

“A waste of taxpayers money”

By the time the 40 minute discussion on the Senior Center was concluded, the proposed Senior Center contribution had been further reduced to $17,000, a 43.3 percent cut from the current fiscal year contribution.

Alderman Jim Gilliam described the Senior Center as a waste of taxpayers dollars, and said he'd prefer to contribute “zero.” One of Gilliam's main points of contention seemed to be the savings for the new van.

“I'm not in favor of that $25,000, or $20,000,” Gilliam said. “I would have thought they would have some estimates here on what a van would cost. I heard somebody say verbally it was $125,000, but I'd like to see it on paper.”

Saving for a handicap accessible van

Senior Center director Sue Jarrett said the van savings has nothing to do with the town's contribution. Most of the saving are acquired through fundraising and donations, while the town contribution helps cover operating expenses for the Senior Center, Jarrett said.

“We're trying to do things to help ourselves and be frugal, and to save money,” Jarrett told the BMA on June 4. “That van has nothing to do with the contribution that you all give us. That's what we're saving for. That's not what we're asking money for.”

Jarrett repeatedly asked the BMA why the Senior Center contribution, which is such a small part of the city's overall budget, was now being targeted.

An old grudge resurfacing?

Jarrett told the Times News after the meeting she suspects these new cuts are a rekindling of an old grudge related to former mayor Larry Frost, who ousted the nonprofit Senior Center from City Hall in 2015.

The non-profiit Senior center acquired a temporary facility at that time while Frost started a municipal Senior Center, although Frost’s plan was later reversed by a board majority and the original Senior Center returned.

Other supporters of the Senior Center’s funding cut include Frost's political ally, Alderman Pat Stilwell, and Frost's son-in-law, Alderman Steven McLain.

“Why, all of a sudden, are we the target?”

Mayor Chris Jones, Vice Mayor Jennifer Williams, and Alderman Carl Wolfe each said they could live with the $25,000 contribution.

Gilliam: “Here's the problem. I don't like robbing Paul to pay Peter, and this is taxpayers money that we're fooling with. If you went out here at Hardee's where people eat breakfast, and tell them we're going to take $25,000, $30,000, maybe $15,000, whatever it might be, out of your pocket, I don't think that would go over too good.”

Jarrett: “I have a question for this board. Why, all of a sudden, are we the target?”

Gilliam: “I'm not saying you're a target. I'm just saying people want money that don't belong to them. That money belongs to the taxpayers. I am not going to sit here and say, we'll just give that money away.”

Pat Stilwell: “We've got to look at the taxpayers. We've got over 5,000 people in Mount Carmel, and there's just a few that comes to your Senior Citizens (Center). We have to take care of the whole town and what the town needs.”

Jarrett noted that 30-40 people attend the Senior Center on any given day. Some come in and socialize, eat lunch during the week or breakfast on Friday. Others come use the exercise equipment and leave.

Aside from the city donation, the Senior Center is slated to receive $19,600 in the Hawkins County Commission's proposed 2019-20 budget.

Seniors are taxpayers to

The city also covers the utilities and maintenance of the facility, which is located on the second floor of City Hall.

Mayor Chris Jones noted that the independent non-profit Senior Center costs the town less than if the town operated the center itself.

Vice Mayor Jennifer Williams noted that seniors are taxpayers to, and they deserves services, just like the town's youth receive through the $76,000 budgeted annually for parks and recreation programs.

In hopes of reaching a compromise each board member in attendance suggested a contribution figure, which was averaged out. Jones, Williams and Wolfe suggested $25,000, Gilliam's suggested “zero”, McLain suggested $10,00, and Stillwell suggested $12,000 —  which averaged to $16,166.

The board agreed to round up to $17,000, and that's the figure that will be in the proposed budget.

Special called meeting to approve budget

The BMA meets in regular session on June 27 at 6:30 p.m. At the suggestion of McLain, however, the BMA schedule a special called meeting ahead of time to hold the public hearing and consider approval of the second and final reading of the budget.

That meeting is schedule for June 18 at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall.

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