Berne senior center has money woes

    For the first time in the 15-year history of the South Adams Senior Center, the organization's board of directors will be forced to withdraw money from its endowment fund to meet budget obligations this year.
    And the center's financial outlook for 2012 is even more bleak.
    With that scenario serving as a backdrop, senior center board members and staffers appeared before Berne City Council on Monday evening to seek financial assistance in the city's next budget cycle.
    Former Berne mayor and current senior center board member Blaine Fulton said the nucleus for the center began in 1994 with the formation of the non-profit South Adams Seniors Inc. to serve senior citizens in the southern half of Adams County. With the assistance of a $455,000 Community Development Block Grant and $200,000 in locally-generated funds, the current senior center site in Berne was constructed. The building is owned by the city of Berne; the senior center board pays $1 in annual rent.
    Fulton said that while the senior center has been operating since its inception on a $40,000 annual budget, a number of changes related to the struggling economy will make it impossible to meet that goal this year.
    Funding for the Adams County Council on Aging and the ABLE organization, which previously had been used to pay for secretaries at the senior center, has been discontinued, said Fulton.  And for the past five years, the southern chapter of the Adams County Boys and Girls Club has met at the center, and has paid $15,000 annually to rent the facility. But the Boys and Girls Club is preparing to move into a new facility, taking away a significant slice of the senior center's revenue.
    The center is anticipating a $15,000 shortfall in 2011, and an estimated deficit of $24,000 in 2012.
    "Our plan to meet our financial situation includes withdrawing $15,000 from the accrued interest of the endowment fund to support this year's shortfall," said Fulton. "Endowment fund interest, not the principal, is used to support expenses and programs. But our fund is not large enough and, with low interest rates, we have to look elsewhere to meet expenses."
    Fulton said the board continues to look at ways to reduce costs but at the same time continue its programming that is an important part of the social fabric of southern Adams County. But the immediate financial outlook is cloudy.
    "For 15 years we have not taken any money from the endowment fund. We could tap the endowment for the next five years to make ends meet, but then it would all be gone. Then what?" Fulton asked.
    "We are here tonight to ask your assistance," board secretary Kathy Schwartz told the city council. "I know you recognize the importance of the elderly in this community, but you'd be surprised how important the center's activities are to seniors. A noon luncheon (at the center) might be the highlight of their month. We just ask your assistance in keeping us solvent."
    Fulton asked the city council, as it prepares its 2012 municipal budget, to consider appropriating $6,225 for the senior center. That figure, he said, represents $1.50 per capita for each of Berne's 4,150 citizens.
    "We feel we have a good ministry there (at the center). We're serving people and taking care of your building for you," said Fulton. "Your financial assistance would give us a boost toward meeting the goals we hope to meet."