The Saratoga Senior Center is at risk of losing critical funding as the City of Saratoga Springs faces a tough budget year.
Lois Celeste, Executive Director of the Saratoga Senior Center, appeared before the city council Tuesday night with an urgent plea for funding.
The city’s proposed Comprehensive Budget, put together by Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan in a year when city revenues are down significantly due the pandemic, would cut funding to non-profits by 50 to 60 percent.
In an amended budget by Mayor Meg Kelly, whose department includes funding for not-for-profits, that funding was reduced to zero – it was that reduction that brought Celeste to the meeting with a presentation.
“It was proposed that 100 percent of all not-for-profit funding was cut. I have grave concerns about this,” said Celeste.
The senior center is requesting about $104,000.
Celeste’s presentation detailed how the Saratoga Springs Senior Center has grown over the years, but also how the organization has shifted its focus during the pandemic – checking in over the phone and connecting seniors with meals, as some examples.
“It kind of pivoted more from programs to services, but when you look at how many we’ve served, we’ve served through September more than we did in all of 2019,” said Celeste.
Celeste said the senior center focused on fundraising, but during a pandemic year, revenues are still down about 26 percent.
“I can’t imagine any of you sitting there are the ones that are going to raise their hand and say, ‘Sure, we want to cut the seniors.’ I get it’s a tough year. But I do not want to see this council or mayor change the way city money goes toward the senior center. It sets a precedent for your most vulnerable constituents in this community,” said Celeste.
Mayor Kelly spoke in defense of her amended budget.
“We have a budget deficit. If I fund you, I lose two positions. That’s two building inspectors, gone. So that whole thing doesn’t work in my budget. So I’m trying to save jobs at City Hall along with every other commissioner,” said Kelly.
Kelly, a Democrat, said she’s concerned with how funding for not-for-profits is distributed in City Hall. She said she wants to change the way the money is distributed moving forward.
“I think it should be a fair and equitable process. And I think that there’s many, many not-for-profits that are out there doing great work that never get funded through the city,” said Kelly.
Finance Commissioner Madigan agreed with the mayor’s desire to reform the way not-for-profit funding is awarded, but also held firm on funding for the senior center as outlined in the Comprehensive Budget.
“I cut all the non-profits 60 percent but I specifically cut you 50 percent. And I think that needs to stay in the budget,” said Madigan.
Other members of the city council also expressed their desire to ensure the senior center is supported. Here’s Public Works Commissioner “Skip” Scirocco, Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, and Commissioner of Accounts John Franck.
“Maybe between now and the end of the month we could meet again and have a discussion and maybe there’s something we could help you out with,” said Scirocco.
“I cannot, in good conscience, take money away from them in this moment, in particular,” said Dalton.
“If there is a new budget coming forward or amendments, this should be a very high priority,” said Franck.
The Comprehensive Budget includes cuts in wages to minimize layoffs and other reductions – something Commissioner Madigan has described as an austerity budget.
“I’m pretty confident that if we can get our hands wrapped around good austerity as we manage our way through this pandemic, we will go into 2022 restoring much of everything that has been cut back, and that will also include the senior center,” said Madigan.
An adopted budget is due November 30th. The city budget can be amended after it takes effect in January.