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Seniors uneasy on proposed member fee for Everett's Carl Gipson Senior Center

EVERETT — The city’s plan to introduce a $30 fee to use the Carl Gipson Senior Center disappoints some seniors who say it would be a barrier to being able to visit.
The city recently said it’s trying to create a scholarship program* for low-income users. It’s not city money. Instead, the city pressed a nonprofit to rush to create a funding gift to pay for scholarships for upwards of 200 seniors.
The new membership fee is packaged into Mayor Cassie Franklin’s budget to help balance city finances; the new fee is estimated to bring in $21,600 for center operations.
The third public budget hearing for the City Council will be Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 3002 Wetmore Ave. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.
At the center, not everyone is holding the same metaphorical deck of cards, with some fixed-income seniors describing how they balance medicine costs with food and other needs. One said Supplemental Security Income — their social security check — pays $750 a month to live on.
After it was close to finishing its budget balancing work, parks assistant director Kimberly Shelton asked the Everett Senior Center Foundation for the money for the fee waivers. The Foundation is a separate nonprofit led by members to benefit the center.
The ask was for $6,000 to $10,000, foundation president Paul Miller said, and it was with a certain urgency. Miller described the request as a sizable amount for the nonprofit foundation’s finances to cover.
The foundation hasn’t decided yet on the city’s request. The group met for a special meeting Friday, Nov. 2 to discuss it.
Shelton oversees a handful of departments including the senior center. She told the City Council Oct. 24 that “We recognize that not everybody can afford $30, and (we’re) not implementing this fee to discourage use.”
“We’re going to find ways to make sure everyone can use it” Shelton said in describing the potential scholarship program.
The request for the foundation’s money could cover 200 to 300 seniors, Miller said Shelton told the foundation.
Among a table of cardplayers at the center last week, those seated said the fee would impact their ability to use the center. Cardplayer Peg Ollefers said losing a social outlet like this center could force seniors into isolation.
Katherine Harrison takes a bus from Marysville to visit the Everett center; she said she is concerned on how she would balance a member fee into her budget.
The city shouldn’t charge money when the center was created to give people a place to play and be social, Harrison said.
The municipally run senior center is one of the few centers without a fee today. Marysville’s Ken Baxter center is another. The senior centers run independently in Snohomish and Monroe have member dues close to the $30 proposed for Everett.
The city believes 720 members would choose to pay the fee to continue using the center. Daily attendance is around 225 people, a city spokeswoman said.
The center has 4,700 actively registered members, senior center director Bob Dvorak said. He said the estimated 720 paying members is for the first year and it will grow.
The fee is unpopular but common knowledge among center regulars.
Dvorak said the fee wasn’t contemplated lightly.
This year every city department was asked to trim its budget. For the senior center, within the center’s department budget, Dvorak said the money generated from a fee would offset how much it has to rely on money from other places within the city, and said the money also might be used to add more amenities at the center.
The fee is not scheduled to immediately start Jan. 1, Dvorak said, and said there is no specific date when it would be implemented.
Nancy Fisher, a longtime center member, sees it this way: “For a lot of people, $30 is fine, but for others, it’s too much,” she said.
Risa Meinke lives on a tight budget and said any fee would force her away. Even if it was a sliding scale fee, “I still can’t do it, because I have unexpected costs,” Meinke, who lives in low-income housing, said.
She uses the center as a quiet space to get away. “For somebody like me, I don’t like to stay home, I like to go out, and some people like to have a place to go and sit and have a coffee,” Meinke said.
At the council’s second budget hearing on Oct. 24, resident Clifton Curd gave a list of alternatives to setting a senior center membership fee. He suggested charging a fee to visit the petting zoo, reducing funds to city neighborhood groups, raising rent costs for event spaces, putting a parking time limit at Forest Park with the possibility of parking tickets and creating a user charge on non-resident Everett Library patrons.
“Charging fixed-income seniors is not the way,” Curd said.
Incidentally, in the budget, the city already plans on doing some of these suggestions, including to reduce neighborhood funding, to increase event space rates and it is trying to outsource the annual Forest Park petting zoo to possibly avoid eliminating it altogether.

* - Clarification: This story calls the program a fee waiver, but no fee is being waived in budget calculations. It is more similar to a scholarship where another entity pays the bill.



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