Amid speculation that senior programming at Hart Park and at the Civic Center could be in jeopardy, the Wauwatosa Common Council April 18 approved an annual expenditure of $85,000 for three years to maintain those activities.
The council unanimously voted to authorize staff to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Wauwatosa School District Recreation Department to run the program out of both locations.
The guaranteed funding — creating a director overseeing both locations and a manager for each — ensures programming to continue in the aftermath of the departure of Interfaith Older Adult Programs which pulled out of its Hart Park management role at the end of 2016.
Currently, the Hart Park Senior Center has 750 members and the Civic Center Senior Club has 175 members.
Dwindling federal funds
The council’s actions came in response to a recommendation by Finance Director John Ruggini who, in a memo, outlined a challenging financial picture based on the prospect of dwindling Community Development Block Grant funding. He said the loss of federal funds creates “long-term funding uncertainty.”
The memo stated the Recreation Department had submitted a budget that assumed annual grant funding would be $85,000. Also noted was that Interfaith may lose 50 percent of its Community Development Block Club Grants in 2017 and possibly lose all funding by 2018 for its separate Milwaukee County contract to provide the Senior Center’s meal program.
Work in progress
Recreational Department Director Mike Wick said no specific timeline has been set to implement the new management structure, though talks have begun and will continue until an agreeable framework is reached.
“There is a definite commitment to keep our senior programs running,” Wick said. He credited all the volunteers who have helped keep the Hart Park site open and running smoothly since January.
“The mayor and other city leaders have been very supportive and the volunteers have pitched in, so a lot of credit goes to them.”
While the Recreation Department has managed some aspects of the Hart Park Senior Center since January, two volunteer leaders, both Hart Park members, have coordinated front desk staffing as well as a host of other volunteers. They said the city’s financial commitment is a relief.
“I’m just thankful that folks got together,” said Brad Roark. “There was lot of great coordination between the city and the Recreation Department.”
Barb Schumacher said she knew near the end of 2016 that something would be done to maintain services.
“For the most part, we have been able to have members see that it’s business as usual,” Schumacher said, noting there was a brief time in early January when there were no phones. Also, volunteer leaders use their own computers at home and have received help from the city in getting things printed, including a published bulletin that includes important dates and other information about programs and activities.
Momentum a key
“If you stop offering something, even for a little while, people will go elsewhere and it’s difficult to get them back,” Schumacher said.
The Hart Park Senior Center has operated since 2000. Programs and activities are a combination of free and fee-based. The membership fee is based on residency and age.
The result of bringing both programs under one umbrella will be that membership will include both locations. According to the Ruggini memo, those nominal fees are subject to change as more plans are put together for the new management structure.