Senior Center expects funding reduction

Malka Fricks says one benefit of the Northshore Senior Center is the social outlet it provides for the elderly. Here, she shares a laugh with a friend at the center’s cafe. - Joshua Adam Hicks / Reporter
Malka Fricks says one benefit of the Northshore Senior Center is the social outlet it provides for the elderly. Here, she shares a laugh with a friend at the center’s cafe.
— image credit: Joshua Adam Hicks / Reporter

The Northshore Senior Center is bracing for a fallout from King County’s projected $90-million budget deficit for 2009.

Officials from the center are expecting a 44-percent reduction in funding from the jurisdiction for 2009, with additional cuts coming the following year, and complete elimination of support by 2011.

King County’s financial outlook has grown increasingly grim this year.

Its executive, Ron Sims, first projected a $25 million general-fund shortfall in October 2007, and later increased that amount to $45 million in March.

He most recently predicted a $90 million deficit, citing inflation and a sluggish economy for the escalating shortage.

The county hasn’t had to cut services since 2006, but the 2009 budget proposal will be inevitably slimmer when it comes out Oct. 13.

The King County budget office has asked all of its agencies to identify potential reductions that would amount to 44 percent for each department.

There has been widespread speculation that public safety and human services will see the deepest cuts.

King County Budget Office Director Bob Cowan, however, claims there is no reason to believe those services will bear the brunt of the pending budget reductions.

“It’s an overstatement to say there’s going to be a 44-percent reduction in those discretionary programs,” he said. “Those were requests to identify potential reductions. No decisions have been made.”

The King County Council has declared public safety, health and quality of life as its main budgeting priorities this year.

What remains to be seen is how the council will reconcile this pledge with shrinking revenues.

“This can only be addressed in Olympia,” Cowan said. “The legislators either need to provide us with additional revenue or tell us what services we don’t have to provide anymore.”

The Northshore Senior Center last year received $200,000 from King County.

Of that money, $78,000 helped pay for the organization’s adult day program, which provides seniors with a safe haven full of activities and even therapy when necessary.

“That’s a lot of revenue to make up, and it’s not just something we can backfill by writing grants,” Northshore Senior Center Director Lee Harper said.

The senior center is considering new means of generating revenue such as raising membership fees and adding a soup-and-sandwich menu to the existing cafe.

“I’m trying to find places where we can increase our revenue because I don’t want to cut services,” Harper said.

The senior center is also considering an operations levy that would bring in as much as $600,000 a year.

“It would help us create long-term sustainability by not just covering the lost money, but expanding,” Harper said. “We could staff more appropriately and look at new programs.”

While King County officials are preparing to reduce spending, Snohomish County is in a position to bolster its support for human services.

The financial outlook in that jurisdiction is rosier because of the development boom that has taken place there in recent years.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon has proposed giving the Northshore Senior Center an 83-percent increase in funding for 2009, which would give the organization around $60,500.

The senior center will also receive $105,000 from the Evergreen Hospital levy in 2009, representing a 9-percent increase in terms of the projects that this money pays for.

Harper claims the senior center would forego money from this source if her organization begins collecting its own operations levy.

This would avoid double dipping into the same tax base.

The senior center had a $2.8 million budget in 2008, with government sources providing around 14 percent of the funding, Harper said.

The organization served more than 7,000 people in 2007, according to statistics from the center.

Many of the users are looking for recreation or a social outlet, but others rely on it for their physical or emotional well-being.

“I’ve always said that the center was half community college and half community center,” said Malka Fricks, a senior citizen from Woodinville. “It serves all kinds of needs that human beings need to have served.

“If services are cut at the senior center, there’s going to be a tremendous drop-off in people coming in. That’s bad for them socially and in terms of their health.”

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