City squabbles with Senior Services over lease

City squabbles with Senior Services over lease

WOONSOCKET - A three-year lease for the building where the nonprofit Senior Services, Inc. operates has run out, and the board of the organization has not been able to come to a new agreement with the city administration.

Board Chairman Robert Picard warned the City Council this week that if the organization is not allowed to sign a new lease with the same terms, they could have to cut programs and services, or potentially close their doors.

For the past three years, Senior Services has paid just $1 a year for the use of the facility at 84 Social St., and the city has picked up the cost for all maintenance and utilities. The organization brings in around $9,000 by renting out some of the space, and has been allowed to keep those profits.

Now, city administration is trying to work out a new contract with Senior Services. According to Picard, their proposal would see a one-year lease in which the city would receive 50 percent of all rental income from the building and Senior Services picking up the utility costs, as well as seeing cuts in funding.

"We have been asked to make a reasonable offer. The city has already taken $28,000 in CDBG and $60,000 from legislative grant funds. Who defines reasonable?" Picard asked.

But at the Monday night meeting, it seemed there may have been funding set aside for the program of which Picard was not aware, and that the dispute could be reconciled with relative ease.

Founded in 1974 with the mission of improving the quality of life for the seniors and disabled residents by maintaining individuals in the community and preventing premature institutionalization, Senior Services operates programs for those 55 or older and the handicapped in Woonsocket and the surrounding community. The center runs nutrition programs, health education, adult day care, information and referral services and a full adult day care program on the site five days a week.

The kitchen at 84 Social St. also prepares lunches for 12 meal sites including Creapeau Court, Kennedy Manor, Parkview Manor, and St. Germain Manor.

Picard listed the statistics: Senior Services had 64 participants in its adult daycare program in 2013 and served some 19,000 lunches. One hundred forty residents attended 4,575 fitness classes and 115 attended 1,024 health screening events. The center's community information specialist saw 2,510 people.

Expenses for the building, including phone, electricity, oil, the alarm system, plumbing, heating, cooling and pest control come to between $40,000 and $60,000 per year, and in the past have been paid for by the city through a community services grant. Picard pointed out the by comparison, many communities provide their senior centers hundreds of thousands in funding.

The total budget for the facility comes to $1.4 million, funds garnered through grants, fundraising, rentals and a charge of $4 for the lunches they serve. Of that, $937,400 goes to salaries and wages for the center's 26 employees.

Continuing the current lease, Picard said, is the only agreement Senior Services can accept without seriously impacting services. Meetings on the issue with City Solicitor Michael Marcello have not gone well.

After informing Marcello that continuation of the same lease was the only option, Picard mailed the attorney $1. Now, he's been informed that Senior Services lease is on a month to month basis.

"I asked him to come back with a counter-proposal and none was given," said Marcello. "We do want is a reasonable review of all leases. It is a very one-sided lease. The city would like some contribution for utilities."

Picard said, "We would like to leave here tonight knowing that we are going to have the same deal as we had the last few years. If not, we will go back to the table and our seniors are going to have a major crisis."

But Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt said there is $42,000 in funding for the organization in this year's budget and the city has applied for an additional state grant of $12,500. She said the roof of the building is also badly in need of repair and will be fixed this August at a cost of $50,000.

"There is funding," said Baldelli-Hunt. "I just want the seniors to be reassured that we have the utmost respect for them and concern for them."

"Why weren't we told that?" Picard asked.

Council members told Picard to try to reach an agreement with the city and to come back if they were unable to come up with a compromise.