Is Cohasset’s proposed Senior Center ready for a town meeting vote?
The senior center planning committee doesn’t think so.
The advisory committee thinks it needs a vote up or down.
At least three selectmen (Steve Gaumer, Karen Quigley and Martha Gjesteby) think the project needs some exposure regarding projected costs – costs that those close to the issue say have been projected at almost $500,000 for Phase I, a $200,000 increase it the elder affars budget, raising serious affordability questions about Phase II.
There was a lot of discussion about it at the selectmen’s meeting last night, but no motion was made to put it on a special town meeting warrant.
Glen Pratt says for all intents and purposes, the senior center has been to town meeting many times for sewering, land transfer. “The planning board has signed off on the project. Selectmen have exercised their support by their support of a professional survey…although the results appear to have not yet been released to the town.” Pratt said the only time he foresaw the center being on a town meeting warrant would be when the social service league asked the town to accept the building as a gift.
Peter Pescatore, advisory committee chair, said it was time for the board of selectmen and town meeting to take a vote on whether they wanted to continue on with the center or not.
Pratt told selectmen the senior budget planning committee was working on a plan to mitigate some of the operational costs.
Pescatore said the budget planning group had not met for over a year, and he said knows because he’s on it. He said the warrant article for a special town meeting would be real simple: “Do You Want the Senior Center to Happen?” Pescatore criticized the senior survey. “The question of how many people would use the center was totally left out, there was no information about that in survey.” He said plans for the center have been slipping in, little by little.
Selectman Diane Kennedy said the senior center planning group needed to meet. “We can’t have a vote unless you have something tangible.”
“Operating expenses are tangible,” Pescatore said. “We need a reasonable estimate, a target number.”
Pratt continued to disagree. “We’re way ahead of ourselves. There’s nothing I can see we can ask voters to consider.”
Pescatore asked selectmen to speak to counsel and find out how the question of the senior center might be shaped for town meeting. An alternative would be to have a referendum at the ballot.
Kennedy said that people did want to understand what the project is, but agreed with Pratt that a town meeting vote should not occur at this time.
Paul Kierce, Elder Affairs Chair since February said his group projected moving into the facility 2-3 years from now. “We can’t do a projected budget,” he said, adding that the project should not go before a town meeting until a later time.
Pescatore stood firm. “This is a private project. It’s up to the selectmen to proceed with a town meeting vote.”
“Why do you want to exercise all this energy now?” Kierce asked Pescatore.
“If the town elects to not accept the building, you’re in danger,” Pescatore said.
“This is a high stakes game,” Selectman Steve Gaumer said, explaining that the senior planning group thinks the town will accept the building at any cost. “The risk is on the proponent. There is a need for services for seniors, as yet unfilled. The town will eventually assess the size of the building, and construction itself will determine the cost.”
Pratt disagreed, saying “There are times in leadership when you have to say enough is enough.” He urged the board to support the center, now.
Gaumer said he was not defining seniors or kids in dollars. “The fact of the matter is that we are each charged with carrying out duties. We’re trying to keep costs down so seniors can stay in their homes.” He suggested that the project might require a 2 1/2 override.
Selectman Karen Quigley said the town needed to be realistic. “We need to have a senior center reality, but we should work together and not be adversarial.”
Kierce said he would work to mitigate concerns and would plan for regular, monthly meetings of the senior planning group.
Kennedy said she was against a town meeting vote. Pescatore argued for a vote, saying “A town meeting vote would pull this all together.”
Citizen Agnes McCann said the town definitely needed to say yes or no at some point. “I don’t think we’ve voted on it and I think we should.”
Select chair Koed noted that $234,000 had been spent in plans to date and that town meeting had given selectmen permission to turn over the land.
Quigley said the question is: “Is the town comfortable supporting this project, with these costs?”
While there had been small authorizations along the way, Gaumer said but that the gift to the town had yet to be fully exposed. “The piece that’s missing is what might the cost be to own this center with expanded services.” He felt it was important that town meeting weigh in on it. “No one has any idea what it looks like until its constructed…this is a high risk proposition.”
Kierce said his group was assessing this on a continuous basis.
Quigley said it was important for taxpayers to have a voice in the process. “My biggest fear is that five years from now we’re all still here talking about it. We want to make sure we can afford it and we should be able to accomplish that if we all work together.”
Citizen Adrienne MacCarthy asked for a vote of the board of selectmen regarding whether they even wanted a senior center.
Acting town manager Mike Milanoski said the selectmen and the advisory committee had taken forward steps. “The planning part has moved forward.”
Selectman Martha Gjesteby agreed with Gaumer and Pescatore that the town needed to have an idea of what projected costs might be. Gjesteby then made a motion that the board of selectmen support the senior center project. The board voted 4-1 with Gaumer against, “not the project itself,” but a lack of information.
Gaumer said he’d like a Rolls Royce, but couldn’t afford to change the oil in it. “We got to do this within our ability to pay for it. I do believe I support the concept of accepting a financially viable center. Let’s lay that out as an objective.”
“To say it must be rigid, is not acceptable. When we need more money for schools, we do it,” Gjesteby said, noting that seniors are a segment of the community.” Again, she stressed that information about the project needed to reach the public.
Pratt said the town should not ask “if” we can afford, it but “how” we can afford it.
Social Service League President Marita Carpenter said the conversation about the affordability of the center baffled her. She emphasized that Phase 1 of the project would result in the league’s turning over a $2.5 million senior center to the town. “I feel like Dorothy before the Wizard of Oz.”
Christine Murphy, treasurer of the Cohasset Social Service League said the center would be multi-generational, encompassing the needs of scouts, offering congregational and gym classes. “We will get you to a budget you can live with,” she said, pointing out that 67% of the town’s budget is spent on the schools, while only 1% is spent on seniors. She also pointed out that neither Hingham or Scitaute had senior centers.
Pratt asked if it was fair to assume that the question of the senior center would not go to town meeting until it’s ready.
When Kennedy said she didn’t understand why it was on the agenda, Koed responded that it was better to have advisors and others coming forward with questions now, rather than later. Also, advisors have brought up the subject of senior center operating costs at several of their recent meetings.
© Copyright 2013 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed