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Edgerton considers referendum for senior center

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Neil Johnson
October 29, 2012

— While the Edgerton School District's potential $9 million referendum awaits a vote on Nov. 6, a separate spending referendum by the city could be on the ballot next spring.

The city is in early talks for a possible referendum that would seek startup costs for a senior cultural activity center that could serve Edgerton and surrounding communities.

During city budget talks earlier this month, Alderman David Thomas requested $50,000 in "seed money" to potentially hire an executive director and begin programming for a senior activities center, which officials said could be housed at the Edgerton Care Center at 313 Stoughton Road.

Thomas is part of a resident group that has been in talks with the city and the Edgerton Care Center officials in recent weeks over the concept of the center, which Thomas said could serve "baby boomers to old-timers."

The city council shot down Thomas' request last week as the city officials continued to find ways to trim a 2013 budget that has been on pace to come in more than $100,000 above state levy limits.

Alderman Ron Webb said Thomas' request was pushed forward with too few concrete plans, and the timing didn't help either.

"It really was a shot in the dark," Webb said. "I think it's a little too soon. It was out of the blue, and nothing behind it. It didn't get swallowed well by the council. You know, with the amount of stuff the council had to cut from this budget, there was just no way."

In the last two weeks, the council in budget sessions also has cut $19,500 in requests for equipment and furnishings for the police department, the municipal swimming pool and the public works department, according to city records.

Despite the rebuff last week, Webb and Mayor Chris Lund said they are willing to give a senior center plan consideration in the coming weeks.

Lund said the council would have to move "fairly quickly," but it's possible the city could package a referendum for startup costs for a senior center by late November.

That would be in time to put it to voters on the April ballot as a referendum to exceed levy limits.

What's not clear is what it would cost to start up a senior center or what the city's ongoing funding obligation could be.

Thomas called his $50,000 funding request an "off the cuff" amount. He said the idea would be to start small, hire a director and operate out of a 1,000-square-foot space at the Edgerton Care Center that he said the center has offered at no cost.

Costs would be to furnish that space and pay for initial programming. He said the center could start with "coffee and card games" and expand as needs dictate.

"What we want to work up to is a bigger job than what you could ask a volunteer to do to run the show and take care of the funds. It would be a very busy part-time job," Thomas said.

"If we got bigger and better with more opportunities like basket weaving, exercise classes, leatherworking and Zumba, (then) we'd need more room."

Thomas said the community group is looking into costs of running a senior center. It has started to examine staffing and funding models of other area senior centers such as The Gathering Place in Milton.

Lund said if taxpayers supported a referendum for a senior center, he would push to hire a director and get senior center programming started right away.

"I think it would be something that would benefit an always growing number of (older) citizens here. If it's something enough people could get together and get along, I think it would be an asset to have in this community," Lund said.

A group of older citizens once met for activities at the Tri-County Community Center in Edgerton, but the group lacked a central leadership, and it has since folded, officials said.

Webb said the city should take smaller steps until it's clear what the city's annual costs would be, and whether residents are truly interested in a senior center.

He's not sure about hiring a director until the scope of the senior center is known.

"I quiver when they say 'hire somebody.' We don't really know what you're looking for yet." Webb said. "The question is do you need a program director—or do you need a fundraiser?"



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