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Donegan Continues Protest of Senior Center Funding Cuts

Alderman says he will again vote against appropriations cut by the federal government but doled out by the city, and that it may be time for Wauwatosa to take its own responsibility for assisting independently living seniors.

Ald. Pete Donegan (1st District) is vowing to maintain his opposition Tuesday night on the Common Council to cuts in Community Development Block Grant funding to the Hart Park Senior Center.

He's also questioning some past and current practices in how CDBG funds are doled out and used, and he says if he doesn't prevail in restoring funding to the senior center – and maybe even if he does – he'll raise the question of changing how the center is funded, possibly be having the city take over direct responsibility.

Donegan cast a lone "protest vote" after learning that federal CDBG funding to Wauwatosa through the Housing and Urban Development Department would fall 21 percent below what was expected.

The Obama Administration accepted a HUD budget that included a $3.8 billion cut, 9% of the agency’s overall funding.

Wauwatosa programs that regularly receive CDBG funding for operations were trimmed more or less across the board by an equal percentage. According to Assistant City Planner Jen Ferguson, that was both fair and necessary because of HUD rules capping expenditures for certain types of programs at certain percentages of the total allotment.

In the senior center's case, it's a public service program and together all public service programs are allotted only 15 percent of the total – meaning that for one to be maintained at planned funding, another would have to suffer more.

The senior center had been awarded $105,362, but now will only get $83,600. Sixty percent of its budget comes from HUD. Center Director Merry Johnson said that would result in program or staffing cuts or both.

But regardless of federal rules, that is not good enough for Donegan, who places a higher value on some of the public service programs than on other categories of CDBG spending.

"There has to be a way to find that small an amount of money in the program (CDBG) to help the seniors," Donegan said. "It isn't that much but it is a lot to them, and they will lose it as soon as July.

"I fear for the future because this funding source is not coming back, and could continue to decline."

Donegan identified some CDBG funding for economic development as a place where spending has been possibly abused in the past and perhaps is not entirely appropriate at present, given public service needs.

"When I was assigned to WEDC (Wauwatosa Economic Development Corp.)," he said, "we regularly held over CDBG funds from year-to-year.

"In one year, we more or less subsisted the WEDC on quote, administrative costs, unquote."

During the Jill Didier administration, the city curtailed funding to WEDC in favor of creating its own new Department of Economic Development, and funding in this year's CDBG budget for economic development is $250,000.

That's down from the $320,000 that was budgeted under previous federal levels, but still seemed like a questionable amount to Donegan given that the city has taken direct responsibility for economic development at the department level. That's even though Donegan himself fought unsuccessfully last year for at least one more position in the department, which he felt was understaffed.

Donegan also pointed to $190,000 slated this year for the Lutheran Home, which he said was almost entirely budgeted to bring one elevator into code compliance.

"That's not an inappropriate expenditure," he said, "it's a hard cost, an elevator. But it's also a strong business model, and that money for one elevator could cover the whole budget of the senior center."

While saying that the Lutheran Home is a fine institutition in its own right, Donegan repeated that pulling the just-over $20,000 back from other programs to maintain senior center funding this year ought not to seem impossible.

Finally, Donegan said that win or lose, he would raise the question of pulling the senior center into the city fold and funding it directly rather than through a grant program.

"I don't have a fleshed-out piece of legislation aimed at that," he said, "but I wonder if that's not the way we should go. There are many other municipalities that do fund their senior services.

"I think this is an important service we provide, but this method of funding is not stable nor sustainable."

Donegan said that he was pondering a funding method that would not burden the property tax levy but was not ready to unveil it.

"That will be introduced in the budget process when we sit down in September," he said. "In the meantime, I've asked staff to look into it, and they haven't gotten back to me yet."

William Maynard June 20, 2012 at 01:02 AM
Donegan also pointed to $190,000 slated this year for the Lutheran Home, which he said was almost entirely budgeted to bring one elevator into code compliance. So the Lutheran Home that charged My Grandma $10000 a month for poor service gets taxpayer money? Really?
Pudge June 20, 2012 at 12:46 PM
What? We can't have a cross on our street signs, but we can provide tax dollars to a private Lutheran Home?
Trey Shipp June 20, 2012 at 01:10 PM
Wow! At a time when cities should be looking for ways to become more financially conservative to prevent taxes hikes, Donegan is thinking we should take on full funding of the HPSC? I feel these facilities play a great role in community development, but our representatives need to be looking for was to fund items outside of taxpayer dollars. And about that $190,000 elevator... Really? How are we giving large grants like this, when we continually cannot find a place to finance other governmental items.
Random Blog Commenter June 20, 2012 at 04:00 PM
The bottom line is that CDBG for upper middle-class cities like Wauwatosa will be going away regardless of who runs Washington. The city and all the organizations that receive funds need to plan for that reality. The Senior Center got a nice building addition courtesy of CDBG and has had significant funding since that time to the point that membership fees are ridiculously low. Hart Park Senior Center annual memberships costs are: Wauwatosa Residents 62 yrs or older $12/yr Wauwatosa Residents 50-61 yr $18/yr Non-Wauwatosa Residents 50 yrs or older $25/yr (Source: senior center online newsletter) The Senior Center should be thankful for its very generous past CDBG allotments and plan for the day when those resources are directed elsewhere.
Christine McLaughlin June 20, 2012 at 04:34 PM
I appreciate Alder Donegan's willingness to think independently on this and other subjects.
Alec Rules June 20, 2012 at 04:55 PM
The chickens are coming home to roost for some of those that are adamant about cutting taxes and federal deficits. Even the Republicans/Tea Partiers must have their ox gored at times in this process of cutbacks. Be aware of what you are rallying for if you, as well as Seniors, get services from the government, which we all do in one form or another. I say increase the membership dues, and/or cut back services at the Center, and let's do our part to live within our means.And it even appears that Wauwatosa iwould be subsidizing Seniors at the Center who live outside the City.
Merry Ziefle June 20, 2012 at 07:35 PM
gee, some of you have a real heart when it comes to Seniors.
Nick Schweitzer June 20, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Wait... it costs them less than $20 a year?! Charge them $25 and let's get on with it. I'm already paying their Social Security... I have to subsidize the place where they play Bridge too?
Alec Rules June 22, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Merry - In the Brave New World of cutting government budgets, the baby boom retiring, reducing "entitlements", lowering taxes, etc., Seniors are on the outs, whether they realize it or not. Pensions, Medicare, SS, extra income tax deductions, discounts, Medicaid, etc., could the money be spent better on young or rich people, or allowing them to keep more of their money instead of subsidizing unproductive elders? Respect for the elderly is becoming resentment. It is starting to happen, be prepared.
Ross Carter June 25, 2012 at 04:55 PM
It is interesting that someone in the Wauwatosa government is interested in the effect of Federal cutbacks on local functions. So far, however, the comments seem more appropriate to Republicans who have declared war on women, students, the handicapped, the elderly and those dependent for paid mamograms and pelvic exams. Here, the crux of the matter is that Wauwatosa has approximately 4000 senior citizens that would, otherwise, go without food. The quality of a civilized society is the extent to which the disadvantaged are cared for. What is disturbing is the hostility in the comments made here. It suggests much displaced anger. Against the elderly? Come on....Did they also pay someones' Social Security, including their own? Check your facts.
Merry Ziefle June 25, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Alec: I don't consider it 'subsidizing unproductive elders.' How about taking care of those who paved the way for us. And how is SS an 'entitlement" when they have paid in just as I am now. Shame on anyone who thinks 'benefits' should be taken away from the elderly, especially the politicians who have t power to make that happen. There IS no respect, and that is the problem.
Merry Ziefle June 25, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Thanks Ross. I was stunned at some of the remarks on this thread. Some of these folks better be careful of what they wish for, as they'll be seniors some day too.
Alec Rules June 25, 2012 at 10:00 PM
@Merry and Ross: Sorry, but it is difficult to refute that the Country is going to the Dark Side as far as taking care of the elderly, the ill, the young, etc. Where the heck have you been lately, why the outrage now? I am not saying it is the right thing to reduce social costs for such people, just prepare yourself. Listen to Paul Ryan and other Tea Party types now leading in polls and read between the lines. Many low information senior voters actually believe SS and Medicare are safe! Congress can change the rules anytime, there is nothing in the Constitution about social programs. It will not happen all at once, just a chipping away. Seniors are poorly informed and organized to fight these coming changes now, and after the next elections when the Republicans take over completely, it will be too late..
Merry Ziefle June 26, 2012 at 02:55 PM
My disdain for the way things are going is not new....I pay close attention to policies that affect our Seniors. Instead of sitting by and preparing ourselves, we ought to try to do our best to DO something about it. Educate people on what the Tea Party, Ryan, and the likes are up to....

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