Originally created 05/29/03

Senior centers face shutdown



A request for $150,000 to keep four Augusta senior centers open through the end of the year will be considered by the city's finance committee June 9.

The nonprofit group that runs five Augusta senior centers and provides hundreds of meals to the elderly each year could be forced to close the doors on four of those centers this summer because of a lack of funds.

But until the Senior Citizens Council of Greater Augusta cleans up its act and its financial books, Augusta commissioners aren't recommending that any additional funds be awarded to the agency, saying thousands of dollars appear to have been misspent and that more money won't solve the council's bookkeeping problems.

The council asked Augusta commissioners earlier this month for $150,000, which would allow the group to pay people to run its senior nutrition programs through the end of December. Without that money, four of the five local centers will close July 1.

"It takes people to serve people," said Ron Schoeffler, the executive director of the council.

He said the council's local funding, which provides meals and social programs for the elderly, has steadily decreased over the past decade.

"We will be closing our doors if we don't have $150,000," Mr. Schoeffler said.

A commission subcommittee voted Wednesday to deny that request. The recommendation will move ahead to the commission's finance committee June 9.

In addition to the money being requested through the end of this year, the council has asked Augusta commissioners to more than double its 2004 allocation - from $207,357 awarded for 2003 to $453,744 for next year. That request has been placed on hold until budget discussions later this year.

City dollars represent less than 7 percent of the council's $3 million annual budget.

Money budgeted by commissioners is used primarily to fund senior center programs based out of city recreation centers, including the Henry Brigham Center, Savannah Place Community Center and facilities in McBean and Blythe. A fifth program operated from the council's 15th Street facility is not affected.

The subcommittee that studied the center's request said that even if they did have a way to meet the council's $150,000 need, they likely wouldn't recommend funding it, citing a history of poor fiscal decisions dating back to 2001.

"They're in a terrible shape," said Commissioner Bobby Hankerson, the chairman of the subcommittee.

The most recent audit available for the council is from 2001 and lists a string of financial reporting problems, such as a $17,000 overpayment to an employee in the Meals on Wheel program that took months to be discovered.

Continued financial oversight during 2002 by the council's monitoring agency - the CSRA Regional Development Center - discovered more problems, including about $30,000 of insurance overpayments for cars no longer owned by the council.

Mr. Schoeffler said those problems have been corrected and are unrelated to their immediate need to pay the wages of senior center employees.

"That's old history. That's old news," he said. "It has nothing to do with the senior center's operating costs at the current time."

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.