2013-11-21 / Front Page

County votes to allow payment

Senior center had roof bill held up by commissioners

MANISTIQUE – After weeks of controversy, the Manistique Senior Center was granted its request at Tuesday’s meeting of the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners. The center had asked for its new roof to be paid for using funds from a millage passed by county voters.

The issue surfaced at a meeting in early November, when the commissioners revealed the center had allowed construction to begin on a new roof. Connie Frenette, the center’s director, maintained that the Luce, Mackinac, Alger, Schoolcraft County Health Department had given the center a report stating both the cracked countertops and leaking roof were causing health issues at the center and needed to be replaced.

In a county meeting earlier this month, Commissioner Dan LaFoille explained he would allow the cost of the countertops to come before the Audit Finance Committee, and be paid out of the center’s millage money, but not the roof. He stated work on the roof had already been started and the center would have to look to their CDs (certificates of deposit) to fund the project.

Frenette disagreed, noting the Commission on Aging, which controls the millage money disbursement, had already agreed to try to take the funds out of the millage.

In the next meeting, LaFoille said the Manistique Senior Center Board, which controls the CDs, worth approximately $70,000, was not being held financially accountable, and was never audited. He recommended withholding a decision on the roof until the center agreed to have this board comply with some kind of financial transparency to be determined by the county.

Commissioner Sue Cameron noted it would not be wise to put a “noose” around the center’s neck, and the matter was tabled until Frenette returned from a vacation.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the issue was once again taken up, and the county was presented with a three-year financial projection from the center. In the projection, prepared by the center’s and Commission on Aging’s accountant/bookkeeper Brittany Baker, the center’s dwindling fund balance was highlighted.

Baker pointed out that the $28,217 roof was a bill for the Commission on Aging.

“This is what our millage money is for,” she said.

She also said the center’s CDs were set aside for less major maintenance costs, and the roof replacement would deplete the bulk of those funds.

Frenette noted that Manistique City Manager Sheila Aldrich had agreed to let the city take over the Senior Center Board, and it would be audited by the city’s auditor. She added the city would continue to lease the building to the center for $1, but the new lease would likely last 30 years – a deal she said the county should take into consideration when deciding to use millage money to pay for the roof.

“They don’t want to tie up dollars from the senior center side, but are more than willing to from the Commission on Aging side,” La- Foille countered. “We will in fact up the fund balance a year from now … even if that puts the Commission on Aging in danger instead of senior center. What I see is the senior center putting most of or all financial responsibility on the Commission on Aging.”

Baker stated the lease with the city clearly states that the commission is bound to maintain the property. She also noted the county’s own prosecuting attorney backed that statement up.

“The senior center is growing ... when this original millage was passed, that growth was not accounted for,” she said. The taxpayers voted for it to keep the center running because they believe it to be a vital part of our community.”

When LaFoille explained the millage fund balance was depleting, Frenette argued that the commissioners had been the ones to lower the tax levy and put the center in that situation.

“We wouldn’t have been in the danger in the first place if our millage wouldn’t have been dropped right in half,” Frenette said.

LaFoille pointed out that the center had been approaching a $300,000 fund balance and the county did not know about the roof and countertops, so it was the commissioner’s duty to lower the levy.

Baker noted that if the county would have let the fund balance continue to grow, it would have accommodated the roof and the growing senior center expenses.

“I think there’s miscommunication on both ends,” she said. “I don’t think there should be fingerpointing or anything – I think that it’s a lesson learned.”

While saying she understood the county’s concern about investing money in a roof on a city building, Baker noted the finger-pointing between the county and the center needed to end, as everyone played a role in the dilemma. She added that plans for increased communication between the entities could aid in the future.

“By having these types of conversations, and letting everyone in on seeing these reports and seeing where we’re heading … we can work together, things can be covered and we don’t have to be in trouble,” Baker said.

The motion to pay the $28,217 for the roof replacement out of the senior center’s millage money was passed unanimously.

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