Area seniors are getting used to having to pay an annual membership fee in order to use the Waupaca Senior Center.
Thus far, about 220 senior citizens have signed up for the membership, said Teri Moe, the city’s senior citizens coordinator.
“I think it’s been going well,” she said during a recent meeting of the Waupaca Senior Center Advisory Board.
Stacks of memberships sat on the table in front of her – divided based on where the applicants live.
“I kind of said that by Feb. 15, I’d like to have the dues in,” she said. “We will take people coming back from Florida.”
Moe has received some negative feedback about the new annual membership fee.
“Maybe six to 12 people really complained,” she told the board. “I had someone say they’re going to come all the time, because they paid for it.”
To take classes offered at the center, seniors must be members of the center. Classes or programs that have historically had fees will continue to have fees.
When people express concerns about the new membership fee, Moe tells them it is not a lot of money and that it is a wonderful membership.
In the case of city residents, she tells them to call City Hall or their representatives on the Common Council to voice their concerns.
The annual fee is $10 for city residents and $15 for non-city residents.
Town of Farmington seniors pay the same as city residents. That township agreed to pay the city the $5 difference in the membership fee for its senior citizens.
The reason why there is a higher fee for those who live outside of the city is to address questions of equity and fairness.
In the past, some Common Council members said city taxpayers are subsidizing seniors who do not live in the city but use the senior center.
The new membership fee is expected to generate about $3,500 in revenue. That expectation was part of the center’s 2012 approved budget.
The figure is based on about 300 seniors paying the fee.
Mayor Brian Smith is a member of the Waupaca Senior Center Advisory Board, and he said, “When you talk about the user fee, it didn’t come from my office or the city council. It came from the Park and Rec office. The council did accept that.”
Some of the negative comments about the new fee are coming from seniors who live in the city.
“I’m hearing from those who live in the city, ‘I’m already paying city taxes,'” said Carol Elvery, who is also a member of the advisory board.
The seniors who visit the center notice that the youth who play in the gyms upstairs in the rec center do not have to pay annual fees to do so.
They pay fees for organized recreation programs, just as the seniors pay fees for their programming.
The fact that basketball players were using the gyms for free at noon on week days was brought to the attention of Parks Superintendent Russ Montgomery by Moe.
“For everything we think we’ve thought of, we will forget something. With basketball, it is our intention that they pay. The youth pay for everything they participate in,” Smith said.
“But not for open gym,” Moe responded.
Elvery then said, “I understand the kids need that space, but there should be a parallel downstairs. No one is arguing about the amount. It’s the principle.”
Dennis Sheehan, chairman of the advisory board, said, “It’s no one’s intention to have the city council micro-manage the recreation center, but fair is fair.”
The mayor said, “There are a number of people, including myself, who agree that city residents are already paying their fair share.”
Moe said the senior center has a budget of about $50,000.
“They took $700 out of my supplies. To the city, that is nothing. To me, that is a lot of money, and then Russ (Montgomery) said I have to start generating income besides for the city,” she said. “It was difficult to do it – that it didn’t harm programming and people coming to the center.
Elvery said, “I don’t have to pay extra to go to the library or to use the roads. It’s there. We pay taxes.”
The Common Council approved the idea to have an annual membership at the senior center, and she said the perception is that the council did not spend a lot of time looking at it.
The council “is the only face the public has access to,” Elvery said.
The mayor told the board that if the city and towns of Dayton, Farmington and Waupaca each budgeted $1,000 for the senior center, “then, we wouldn’t have to have membership fees.”