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Mill Race Center seeks $100,000 for senior effort

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Mill Race Center is requesting $100,000 in taxpayer-funded support to help pay for a new wellness program for seniors.

Half of it is being sought from the city of Columbus and half from Bartholomew County. But how much money, if any, Mill Race Center can count on from either is unknown.

The six-figure budget request comes after the center this year received $8,000 from the county and $19,800 from the city.

In budget presentations last week, county officials were lukewarm to the center’s proposal. They requested more details about the center, its proposed wellness program and how the money would be used, Bartholomew County Council member Jim Reed said.

The Mill Race request is a “huge jump” from what the county has typically given the center, and the request is coming at a time when the county is strapped for cash, Reed said.

“We’re going to have a real tough budget this year,” he said. “We try to get a budget that doesn’t use up our reserves.”

The county council may need to trim as much as $1.7 million from budget requests for 2015, holding spending to $17.2 million next year.

In Thursday’s city budget hearings, Columbus City Council members learned that there is no designated funding for Mill Race Center in the proposed 2015 city budget.

Mayor Kristen Brown said the center has not requested any funding from the city and that she has never heard of the wellness program being proposed.

If the request was to be made, it would need to be made to the Columbus Parks and Recreation Board, she said.

There is no formal partnership between the city and the Mill Race Center, just a growing dependence annually to subsidize the group, the mayor said during budget hearings.

The mayor also said during budget hearings she was concerned about Mill Race’s long-term financial viability when talking with council members.

Brown has proposed $50,000 in arts programming grant money for 2015 with $35,000 in the Parks and Recreation budget and $15,000 in the Commons budget that the Mill Race Center could apply for as a grant.

The Mill Race Center could also apply for grant funds from a $40,500 line item in the Board of Public Works 2015 budget, Clerk-Treasurer Luann Welmer said.

Mill Race Center Executive Director Bob Pitman said the center needs additional funding for its programming or will have to resort to other budget-balancing measures.

It is considering selling the Town and Garden senior housing apartment complex, valued at $295,000, said Lynne Sullivan, president of the Mill Race Center board of directors. The center also will receive a bequest of $130,000 this year, which could be utilized to offset expenses, Pitman said.

The center also will hold fundraisers and continue seeking grants to help support its programs and operating costs.

City Council member Ryan Brand said Mill Race Center representatives were not notified ahead of time that funding for the center would not be in the proposed budget.

Council members learned of that the night before the budget hearings.

Pitman said the Mill Race Center has received city funding since 1994 and could not understand why it would be removed from the city’s budget entirely.

This year, the Mill Race Center received $19,800 in an economic development income tax (EDIT) fund grant funds after requesting $50,000. The center also received $19,800 in 2013.

Council members are looking to restore an undetermined amount of funding for Mill Race Center, but Brand said they do not know yet how they will do that.

The city council will consider the budget Sept. 16 and Oct. 7, when members can propose changes.

The Aging Well Program at the center would improve the lives of residents age 50 and older through physical, vocational, spiritual, social, intellectual and emotional wellness programs during a new six-month program, Pitman said.

Programs would range from recreational workshops to financial literacy classes, he said.

“What we’re trying to create at the Mill Race Center is a comprehensive set of programs and services that support older adults throughout their lives,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of living to do, and they want to do it well.”

The program is already underway, and Pitman hopes to have 400 participants by the end of next year.

He anticipates Mill Race Center membership to increase as the senior population continues to grow.

Pitman said the program is supervised by 12 to 15 trained volunteers. They will meet with Mill Race Center participants who will be given a pre-evaluation of their personal wellness and what they would like to achieve.

The program consolidates many services already available to members at an annual cost of $250,000, Pitman said.

The Mill Race Center’s planned budget for 2015 is about $920,000, up from about $870,000 this year, he said.

“The Aging Well Program involves a checklist of all of our activities that fall within the six dimensions,” he said. “We’ve trained our Aging Well guides to understand how the process works. The initial step would be to help the participant decide what they’re interested in doing, what they need to do (and) what area they may be not quite as strong as others at. It leads to a personal wellness plan.”

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