Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Senior Center Plans Still Unclear

In a report Wednesday (March 29, 2006) to the Senior Center membership, President Charles Nelson said a meeting Friday with administration officials yielded no news on a promised new center.

Promises were on the lips of all campaigners for city office last year, but since the new administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs took over Jan. 1, officials have said everything is up for review.

Currently the seniors meet in rented space at 305 East Front Street. The $90,000 annual lease is up in June and the building has been sold. The proposed site for the new center is slightly south and east of the present one, still on East Front Street.

Nelson and other members of the center’s Building Committee met Friday with Robinson-Briggs, Public Works Director Jennifer Wenson-Maier and City Administrator Carlton McGee, who is also the acting director of Administration and Finance, the city department that is in charge of the senior center.

“We were supposed to get some good news,” Nelson said.

But he said the meeting ended with “nothing definite” on a new center, though with hope held out that it could be on the proposed site if a mixed-use project , perhaps including housing, could be developed to produce tax revenues. The center alone, as a city agency, would be tax-exempt.

Member Jean Black said the Friday meeting ended with accusations that seniors had been disrespectful to the mayor by asking questions.

If we can’t get answers and they rely so much on us for our vote, I think it’s wrong,” Black said.

Member Charles Booker recalled that the last major housing development - the conversion of the former Tepper’s department store to 75 apartments - only resulted in a 30-year tax abatement plan and suggested that a new housing plan might not mean new ratables after all.

Center member Reggie Garner said he heard that the $4.3 million raised for the center in a bond sale last year was “going to be turned back to the Utah bank,” referring to the successful bidder, Zion Bank.

McGee, reached later by phone at City Hall, said . “I know nothing about that.“

McGee said the city has no plans that have an architect’s signature, but in light of several past proposals, he said, “We haven’t taken anything off the table.” In fact, he said, the city has added more possibilities.

He said the dialogue with seniors will continue while the new administration does its “homework” on ideas for the center.

McGee said officials will be “more circumspect about promises” while they sort out the options.

Asked for a comment on what she heard at the membership meeting, member Mary Jackson said, “The comment really is, in January we were told they didn’t have the money. In February they did have the money.“

Jackson referred to remarks by Robinson-Briggs regarding the $4.3 million general bond anticipation note. The mayor misunderstood the language and said there was no bond money in January, but corrected herself in February.

Jackson continued, “In March, they’re going to send the money back. What’s it going to be in April?

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: senior center