2013-11-07 / Front Page

Board, center at odds over finances, roof

Senior Center millage at core of argument

MANISTIQUE – Almost exactly a year later, conflict between the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners and Manistique Senior Center has surfaced once again. The conflict, centered around financial control, had originally been brought to light last October and was addressed again during last Thursday’s meeting of the board.

According to Commissioner Dan LaFoille, he recently attended a meeting at the center to discuss a variety of issues. He noted that although the meeting was only supposed to be attended by a few people, there ended up being approximately 30 people. LaFoille added sarcastically that the meeting was “fun and interesting” and that he “didn’t make a lot of friends there”.

During the meeting, LaFoille said he was made aware of an issue with the countertops at the center and that both the Community Action Agency and the Luce, Mackinac, Alger and Schoolcraft County Health Department expressed safety concerns.

“LMAS wants the countertops replaced because they’re cracked,” he said. “They’re concerned with, of course, food-borne (illnesses).”

LaFoille explained he went to the center earlier that Thursday to ask for a purchase requisition to fix the countertops. Connie Frenette, the center’s director, supplied an estimate of $12,068, he said, but then also submitted purchase requisitions for two other items.

“One is for a security system at the facility for $1,919.53 and the last is for the new roof that’s being put on as we speak … for $28,217,” he said.

In a letter from Frenette, who was also present at the meeting, she requested money be moved from the fund balance of the center, where the millage money is stored, and moved to a line item named “capital improvement” to pay for the three projects. She added that, though the center currently has approximately $70,000 in CDs (Certificates of Deposit), those funds have been designated for expansion of the senior center. The Manistique Senior Center Board oversees these funds and will work with the city to apply for grants for this expansion, she added.

The Schoolcraft County Commission on Aging oversees the millage funds. During meetings last year, the possibility of merging the two boards or dissolving the senior center board was suggested, but no action was ever taken on the matter.

Commissioner Sue Cameron explained that Commission on Aging had voted to attempt to use millage funds to pay for the roof, and would use the CDs if that plan falls though.

“I’m certainly not ready to put forth the security system or the roof without further conversation with the senior center boards,” LaFoille said. “I am prepared to accept a motion for the countertops with cupboards.”

LaFoille stated he thought the countertops were vital to the operation of the facility, and could be paid for using millage money. He again emphasized his opposition to paying for the additional items with those funds.

“We have the responsibility to watch over the tax dollars – that’s our responsibility,” LaFoille said. “Some folks would rather we didn’t have that responsibility, I guess.”

Cameron noted she thought that the roof, which is being replaced due to leaks, contributed to the problem with the countertops, but LaFoille insisted it didn’t.

Frenette explained that both Schoolcraft County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Noble and City Attorney John Filoramo had agreed with the center’s lawyer’s opinion that the roof would be included as an “operational” cost and could be purchased with millage money.

“I have the health department (report) … here too; the roof is a major thing,” she said. “It’s an issue with the health department. It’s going to get where we will not be serving meals because we have … a major leak.

I feel this is just as important, if not more important, than the cupboards,” she added.

Frenette also noted the center had experienced a breaking and entering, as well as what appeared to be an attempted breaking and entering in recent months.

“I think these are major issues,” she said. “I think that the seniors passed that millage knowing that that millage was for the operation of the senior center.”

The center leases the building from the city, Frenette explained, and in the lease, the center is held responsible for the building’s upkeep. She also noted that the city leases the building to the center for just $1 for 20 years, and that though the lease paperwork recently expired, it automatically renews until a new agreement is drawn up.

LaFoille contended that in the senior center board bylaws, it is stated that it is responsible for the maintenance of the building, meaning it should have to use its funds, the CDs, to pay for the roof. He noted the roof is halfway done, so it does not need to be addressed at this time.

“I’m not going to take the fast track on this – I’m just not going to do it,” he said.

Frenette questioned why LaFoille chose to replace the countertops only and not the other items important for the operation.

“Is it the action of the commissioner to decide what the Schoolcraft Commission on Aging is going to pay out of their millage money?” she said.

LaFoille countered that he did not want to spend money on a building not owned by the county.

“I’m just trying to do this the right way. I have concerns about spending money on someone else’s building,” he said. “I understand that they’re getting that building for basically nothing, and I appreciate that … but, nonetheless, we have the responsibility to make sure millage dollars are spent appropriately.”

While LaFoille insisted operations would be restricted by the countertops, Frenette questioned how the facility could possibly operate with a leaking roof.

“You can’t run a senior center with rain running in the senior center,” she said. “You can’t provide services and activities … with a bad leak.”

A motion to approve only the countertops, with the approval from Commission on Aging, was passed unanimously by the commissioners. Commissioner Jerry Zellar was absent.

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