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City will manage Medford Senior Center

Medford City Council Thursday approved a two-year agreement to manage the struggling Medford Senior Center.

The council unanimously agreed to a contract with the senior center that would pay the city $266,050 to handle daily operations of a service that has 680 members and 50,000 calls or visits a year.

"I'm very gratified we're bringing this into the city," Councilor Kim Wallan said.

The senior center laid off its office manager earlier this year and stopped serving hot meals for a period of time. It's been operating on a volunteer basis in recent months.

The center lost its previous office manager and executive director last year. At the time, membership had dropped by about half from 10 years ago.

The contract starts in July, and the city will, among other things, make sure staff is available when the doors are open, provide office furnishings and equipment, promote and coordinate programs and provide cash-handling systems through the Finance Department.

"I really appreciate that we're addressing the needs of the senior population," said Councilor Kay Brooks.

The city will also administer the Senior Advocacy Program to provide information about housing, caregiving, transportation and legal counseling, as well as Medicare and Medicare Part D.

Apart from the duties that will be performed by the city, the center itself will license and operate bingo, develop a capital improvement plan, fundraise, recruit new members, administer the meal program and take care of utilities, repairs and landscaping.

The senior center has struggled financially for years, and Councilor Kevin Stine wondered whether it would have the financial wherewithal to make its first $33,000 payment in October.

"Personally I'm fine with not having that first payment," he said.

"It'll be a challenge," Lori Williams, senior center board financial officer, said of coming up with the October payment. "We will reserve as much as we can each month."

The center brings in about $240,000 in revenue a year.

Williams said her calculations indicate the center should have the money but she acknowledged it will be tight.

With the city's help in taking over responsibilities the board has assumed, she said, it will provide more time to seek grants for the center.

Created in 1958, the center moved to its current location in 1973. In 1993, the city conveyed the building to the Rogue Valley Council on Aging, with the stipulation that if the building were not used as a senior center for 90 days, it would revert to city ownership.

In 1996, the center launched its lunch program.

"Running that kitchen is difficult," Williams said.

She said the board is exploring changing the lunch program, possibly working with the Rogue Valley Council of Governments Senior and Disability Services to provide the food while maintaining the $5 meal charge.

She said the kitchen will likely still be used for preparing snacks and desserts. The kitchen is currently used to prepare lunches a few times a week, with local restaurants pitching in to provide meals on other days.

Going forward, Williams said, the center hopes to attract new board members with fresh ideas and energy.

She said she was heartened to receive the help from the city for the senior center.

"I'm very proud to live in a community that has shown that support," she said.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.