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Senior Center director eyes fundraising to make up for lost revenue

Situation dire as block grant funds decrease $20,500

July 22, 2011

A decrease in federal grant funds has the Hart Park Senior Center director looking for ways to make up the gap.

The city received 16.5 percent fewer Community Development Block Grant funds than anticipated for 2011. That cut was spread among applicants, including the senior center.

Merry Noel Johnson, senior center director, requested $124,500, but the final allocation came in $20,500 less. This is especially difficult as the grant dollars count as the group's largest source of revenue.

As the funding has been steadily decreasing since its high of $170,000, Johnson anticipates next year bringing even less block grant money to Tosa. It's possible that the funding will be eliminated completely at some point in the future, she added.

Noel asked the Parks and Forestry Board on Tuesday for permission to start fundraising for money to fill the gap.

Former Public Works Director Bill Kappel didn't think writing grants, organizing giving campaigns and fundraisers or soliciting donations were part of her job duties, she said. Although fundraising has been on her mind for at least five years.

Could lose county funding

But the situation is now becoming dire, especially as Johnson anticipates cuts to another source of funding from the Milwaukee County Department of Aging.

Johnson is actually employed by the YMCA, which has a contract to operate the Hart Park Senior Center in the Muellner Building. She said there might be some funds available through the Y's community campaign.

"The Y does believe in building strong communities," she said.

The center could also consider creating a Friends or nonprofit fundraising group, she said.

The Friends of Hart Park, Tosa Skateboarders United and Tosa Tonight all already operate such entities to raise private funds for aspects of park facilities and programming so it would make sense, said Alderman Michael Walsh, board liaison for the Common Council.

He said a likely solution would be a mix of fundraising, lobbying the city for more money and cutting services, which he called a "herculean effort" to take on.

Lobbying for city funds

"I would lobby the executive committee and put it to Budget and Finance to make some hard decisions," he said.

Walsh assured her the council members see the benefit the center has for the senior population, but they also have to consider other city services such as police and garbage collection that touch an even greater number of residents.

In the meantime, Johnson said she'd get together with Public Works staff to look at her options.

Walsh said the board needs to look at ways to bring in more park revenue, citing a recent contract with the Wauwatosa Curling Club as a possible lost opportunity. A similar agreement in Mequon brought in significantly more money, he said.

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