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Friday, Oct. 24, 2014

Senior Center looking to stay out of the red

Friday, November 16, 2012

Having heard the budget presentation from the county's senior citizens program, members of the Mississippi County Quorum Court's Finance Committee are ready to present their completed 2013 budget for Mississippi County to the full Court for approval.

The Court will meet the week after Thanksgiving to approve the budget and attend to other end-of-the-year business.

Senior citizen program director Suzanne Southard was on hand to present her budget and discuss ways that her department can aim toward staying out of the red. She explained the Blytheville center's recent problems with rising rent and the deteriorating condition of the building, which is becoming more and more costly. The rising costs of food and fuel have also had a hard impact on the senior program, which has a heavy focus on daily meals at its three centers and its Meals on Wheels program.

Members of the committee discussed options with Southard on places to relocate, one possibility being the Ramey Center at Westminster Village. Justice Michael White told Southard he had been contacted by a Westminster representative and asked to have Southard speak to the community's director about a possible partnership of her program and Westminster. Southard said this would solve a lot of the center's problems, including a shrinking daily attendance and the expense of rent.

"I feel good about this budget," she said. "Especially with some new and possibly monthly fundraisers we'll be doing. Blytheville has slacked off in its outreach, and you have to have outreach to raise money, so we're pumping that back up. We can't do anything about government funding and how much we receive or don't receive except to make sure that our numbers stay up. We've cut and cut and cut, but I honestly feel a little more positive outlook about this year than I have in the past three years, in spite of having less money."

Southard presented a budget that fell within the requested amount of cuts, but justices present repeatedly expressed to her that the senior program's habit in recent years of running into the red nearly every month had to end somehow. White said the senior center has been in the red every month or every other month for some time, and that it places undue stress on the county's funds and treasury department.

"That problem has to be corrected and it really cannot be in the red come December," he said.

Justice Barry Ball agreed, saying the new budget and Southard's plans for next year are positive, but that when the budget was set the program must stay within it regardless of rising expenses.

"When I was running the Blytheville center [before she became director of the county wide program], it was highly successful," Southard said. "The job has to be done and I can bring that center up to par, I am really working on it. ... If we can get out from under rent and utilities at the Blytheville center and get our numbers back up, we can do it. ... Some things just have to be done, if our numbers don't come up we'll be overlooked for government funds. There's a reason for it [the attendance decline] and I can't go into it here, but I have tried to rectify it and the county wouldn't let me. I'm hoping these things are corrected but I was told to take my hands off of it and I'm just trying to stay out of the red."

Members of the committee also expressed their frustration with the current situation at Aviation Repair Technologies, which has yet to fulfill its end of the economic development contract it made with the county on job creation in exchange for tax money. Justices believe ART was supposed to have reached its goal of several hundred jobs created but has not yet been able to do so, and no action (that they are currently aware of) has been taken by the Great River Economic Development Foundation to retrieve the county's money.

The full Court will meet on Tuesday, Nov. 27 at the Osceola courthouse to approve the 2013 budget, which White said is balanced in every department, thanks to line item and personnel cuts.

sharris@couriernews.net

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