Will senior center stay afloat? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Will senior center stay afloat?

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February 23, 2006

Albany -- A popular senior citizens center will close a week from today unless Albany leaders can come up with enough money to keep it running.

The city has footed the bill for the James H. Gray, Sr. Senior Center in east Albany since 2004, when the Council on Aging was forced to shut down one of the county's three centers because the federal government cut funding.

Now the city must decided whether to take over the center for good, or shut it down.

The James H. Gray Center is a second home for these seniors. "We have a nice center, the prettiest one in town," says Mildred Tyson, who enjoys the time she spends here.

Some of them having been coming for more than 30 years. "We enjoy going up there and having fellowship with people. It's better than sitting at home," says Ms. Tyson.

That's why some of them made their fourth trip to government building to beg city commissioners to keep the center open. "I really don't want to go through this every three to six months," said Kay Hind of the Council on Aging.

Hind says the agency will no longer take money from the city a little at a time to keep operating the center temporarily. "It's not fair to the older people, it's not fair to the staff."

The Council on Aging hasn't paid to operate the center since July of 2004, after federal funding cuts forced them to shut it down. But the city swooped in and picked up the operation costs, but that money has run out. "I'm operating now out of local donations, and there just isn't that much money to go around."

The city manager told commissioners it would cost too much to run the center, more than $150,000 a year. And, he reminded commissioners the seniors could be bused to other centers.

But commissioners Jon Howard and Dorothy Hubbard argued the city hasn't tried very hard to find ways to keep the center open. "We have actually short changed our constituents, especially our senior citizens," said City Commissioner Jon Howard.

"I have not seen any possibilities explored, I have not seen any creativity," says City Commissioner Dorothy Hubbard. "There may be civic or faith based organizations that would carry the program on, especially in light of not having to pay utilities or rent."

So commissioners voted to search for money to keep the center open until July, while they worked to place the operation cost in the budget for good. News these seniors loved to hear.

The city manager said he could probably find the money to operate the center until July, but told commissioners to keep it running for good would mean making cuts in other city programs.

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