Help for seniors’ ‘lifesaver’?

Tax-revenue bump may forestall hard choices for center, library

“I enjoy this group very much,” said Norma Phillips, focused on her bridge game Friday at the Durango/La Plata Senior Center. She visits up to three times a week for bridge. The demand for senior services continues to increase, and city and county officials are hoping economic changes don’t force cutbacks. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

“I enjoy this group very much,” said Norma Phillips, focused on her bridge game Friday at the Durango/La Plata Senior Center. She visits up to three times a week for bridge. The demand for senior services continues to increase, and city and county officials are hoping economic changes don’t force cutbacks.

Mae Forleo, 98, goes to the Durango/La Plata Senior Center for lunch about every day except Wednesdays.

“I got to stay home once in a while,” she said jokingly.

Seriously, Forleo said, “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t come here.”

Forleo, along with her lunch buddies, praised the center’s balanced meals, opportunities to make new friends, and its many activities and exercise classes, such as cribbage, bridge and tai chi.

Mary Rottman called the center “a lifesaver.”

Seniors “need a place,” said Irene Nix.

Because of a growing senior population, known as the “silver tsunami,” and dwindling sales-tax receipts, providing for the senior center has been a cause of worry for city of Durango and La Plata County officials.

An improving economy, however, is providing a glimmer of hope that the City Council and the county commissioners won’t be forced into hard budget decisions for both the senior center and the Durango Public Library next year.

County sales-tax receipts are up 11.5 percent for the first two months of the year, a big jump over 2 percent growth projections for 2013.

Revenue from a joint sales tax provides $342,710, or about half the senior center’s budget, and $1.8 million, almost the total budget, for the library. The joint tax is comprised of 11 percent of the money generated by the county’s 2-percent sales tax.

Andy White, director of library services, is keeping his fingers crossed.

“Hopefully it keeps trending that way and we can have a comfortable reserve,” White said.

Over the last three years, reserves in the joint-sales fund have made up for deficits between operating costs for the senior center and library and revenue from the sales taxes.

In planning for 2013, county finance officials projected the fund balance to dwindle to $30,422 by end of the year, down from $383,530 in 2011.

Without enough reserves to make up deficits, county commissioners and city councilors could be forced into making cuts in services or diverting funds from elsewhere.

The demand for library and senior services has only been increasing.

The senior center must accommodate the rising wave of baby boomer retirements, which is not expected to crest until 2020.

Lezlie Mayer, director of human services for La Plata County, said senior services has so far managed cuts to its operating budget without sacrificing its level of service.

In the last year, the senior center served 40,000 meals at the center and through Meals on Wheels, made 1,000 hours of home visits, provided 6,157 rides and had 29,546 participants in its activities, such as bridge or exercise classes.

The library also gets heavy use.

In 2012, its circulation numbers increased by 5 percent to 445,373 checked-out items. Its number of computer sessions (15, 30 and 60 minutes) increased by 20 percent to 133,738. Its number of card holders also increased 8 percent to 31,651.

Increased library use is often an economic indicator, White said.

“When the economy gets bad, use of the public library increases,” White said. “People can’t afford to pay for Internet at home.”

The library has seen hard times of its own, opening on Dec. 1, 2008.

“I think the economy collapsed the next day,” White said.

So the library has had to close on Sundays, eliminate two full-time positions and reduce hours of part-time staff members.

As funding improves, White said he would gradually restore services.

“Hopefully we have seen the worst in the economy,” he said.

If anyone wants to help the library or the senior center, White suggested they “buy local.”

jhaug@durangoherald.com

Five-year-old Milagro Berry Montoya explores the shelves of DVDs available in the children’s section of the Durango Public Library. Library officials hope the economy continues its upward track so that no further cutbacks will be needed. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Five-year-old Milagro Berry Montoya explores the shelves of DVDs available in the children’s section of the Durango Public Library. Library officials hope the economy continues its upward track so that no further cutbacks will be needed.