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Washington County to fund senior center for 10 months

April 23, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Advocates for a senior center in Washington County scored a victory Tuesday when the County Commissioners agreed to add temporary funding for a center in their fiscal 2009 budget.

The money will allow the Washington County Commission on Aging to lease space for a senior center in the Girls Inc. of Washington County building on Washington Avenue in Hagerstown.

The Commission on Aging will pay Girls Inc. $65 per hour to use the building during the week. The agreement will last for 10 months, starting Sept. 1.

The center will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, when Girls Inc. is not using the building.

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The approval comes two months after Commission on Aging Executive Director Susan J. MacDonald and Girls Inc. Executive Director Maureen Grove presented the proposal to the county commissioners.

At that meeting, some commissioners said they thought the lease, which would have cost $180,000 for 12 months, was too expensive.

The current lease will cost $111,180 for 10 months.

With additional costs for furniture, food and employees, the total cost was approved at $259,180.

"What stands out for me is the price, which is well below market rate, and the fact that it is a commitment-free lease," Commissioner James F. Kercheval said.

Because the lease is not a long-term contract, the Commission on Aging would be free to move into another building if a location for a permanent senior center became available, Kercheval said.

But not all commissioners agreed that the lease was the best option.

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire questioned whether the Girls Inc. building is the best site for a temporary senior center and suggested capping the county's contribution at $200,000.

Commissioner William J. Wivell said he did not see the need for a full-time staff person at the center. Pay for that person, as well as contract workers, will total $74,000.

Wivell also questioned whether the center is what seniors need most right now.

"The seniors I hear from are having problems paying their property tax bills, paying their utility bills. If we have a quarter-million dollars to spend, I think it would be better spent on those kind of things," Wivell said.

Commissioner Terry L. Baker was in favor of the proposal but said he would like to see periodic statistics on how many seniors use the center, "to make sure taxpayer money is being well-spent."

MacDonald said on Tuesday that she expects 1,500 to 2,000 people per year to use the center but said it would be difficult to break that down to a per-day number.

The Commission on Aging has lobbied aggressively for funding for a permanent senior center.

Washington County is the only county in Maryland without a multipurpose senior center.

MacDonald said the Commission on Aging is still looking for a permanent senior center location but has said that process could take two to three years.

In the meantime, MacDonald and others have said the lease with Girls Inc. is a good option.

"What this partnership is bringing is an immediate, turnkey solution for a senior center in our community. And in linking elderly citizens to at-risk girls, it is a rare partnership," Girls Inc. Board of Directors President Suzie Menard said.

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