The Payson Town Council took the first step to partner with the Payson Senior Center to ensure that its members are taken care of.
Deborah Barber, treasurer of the Senior Center board, proposed a "strategic partnership" with the Town of Payson, as a way to circumvent the proposed weaning of town funds. She said the senior center provides a service to the town, much like the Payson Humane Society.
"We would like to be not considered as a nonprofit organization and we are not looking for a donation," she said.
Barber suggested an agreement for the council to consider.
"We would like to propose that the town partner with us in the amount of $80,000 a year. We would like to respectfully suggest that we have a moral obligation to take care of our seniors," Barber said
Thursday night's marathon Payson Town Council meeting strapped its participants in on a five-hour emotional roller coaster ride.
The meeting was filled with tears, flared tempers and outbursts, while the council discussed the issue.
The council had proposed a series of cuts in the next five years to the funding it provided to nonprofit groups, among them the Payson Senior Center.
The item was brought before the council after the final budget was approved without application of the funding cut to the center.
"I would suggest that if the senior center was to become part of the town, it would cost the town much more than what we're asking for you to contribute," Barber said.
Barber stressed the need for continuing services provided by the center, which already has a strapped budget.
"It would be much easier to meet our revenue budget if we took the path of cutting services, but we really strongly believe that cutting services to our seniors is not the way to go," she said. "We want to expand."
"Aging cannot be considered a special interest," she said. "It has to be considered a responsibility of all of us to take care of our seniors," she said.
Lorraine Austin, a tiny 91-year-old who utilizes the services of the center, was helped to the dais.
"I'm here to beg you, if I have to, please don't cut your support to the senior center," she said, white hair gleaming. "They take me to the doctor, to the dentist, to the eye doctor, to the beauty shop and to Safeway to shop for groceries. I am blind. What would I do without the senior center?"
Austin utilizes the senior bus for her primary transportation.
"The drivers are wonderful," she said. "They take good care of us. They have a step stool for short people like me," she said.
David Walker, a volunteer at the center, said that the center is already badly in need of physical repairs and could not do with less funding than it already has.
"Our building is starting to come apart," he said. "The tiles are popping up and a lot of our people come in there and use walkers and walking canes and they have a very difficult time getting around."
"There is a leak in the ceiling that has stained the ceiling. The coolers on top of the building are no longer functional," he added.
Councilor Mike Vogel struggled through his comments, often stopping to regain his composure, in a proclamation of support for the center.
"I'm sure Debra (Galbraith), who's an excellent CFO, can find a stinking $15,000 a quarter to give this group of people," he said. "'Cause not one of them should ever have to beg."
He made the motion to disburse the original budgeted amount of $23,400, plus $15,000 a quarter to the center.
Councilor Su Connell echoed Vogel's emotion and support.
"I truly believe in the quality of life, we're all going to be there some day," she said through tears.
Mayor Bob Edwards suggested that the center look for ways to raise more money internally, including raising donation requests.
He said that if the council disbursed funds to every group that needed it, it might become a problem.
"Part of the problem is we really have no right, no matter how much the need is, as a public body, to decide where people ought to give their charity dollars," he said.
Despite Edwards' initial hesitation, the council voted 6-0 in favor of disbursing $80,000 to the center for this fiscal year, with a stipulation that the council would have to approve a contract for services before funding was granted in the 2008/2009 fiscal year.
Vice Mayor Tim Fruth arrived late to the meeting and missed this vote.