A group of over 100 township senior citizens say a is unfair, and asked town council members to reconsider the cut.
The crowd gathered at town hall Wednesday morning for a Senior Center Advisory Committee meeting at which they explained to council members why the cut would compromise one of the services they love most about Mahwah.
“It is very important for our health and happiness to be able to come here and participate in line dancing or Zumba,” resident Carol Mayberry said.
“We moved to Mahwah for the senior center,” resident Felicia Fox added.
According to a statement from Senior Center Director Suzanne Small, the $6,000 reduction to the professional services portion of the senior center budget would force the center to drop its offerings from 11 classes to 8. Classes are free for seniors to attend and are offered daily.
“Senior citizens are often thought of as the first people you can take advantage of when it comes to cuts,” Mayberry said. “But, [these classes] are very important to us.”
According to Councilman John Roth, who was one of three council members at the meeting Wednesday, the reduction will actually be an increase over what the Center paid to conduct classes over the past two years.
In 2011 and 2012, the classes cost about $28,000 to run. Senior Center representatives said costs were down the past two years because of instructor retirements and illnesses. But, this year it was planning to return to a full course load, at an estimated cost of $36,000.
Roth told seniors the proposed budget reduction is “not necessarily cutting things.” The cut, he said, would reduce the Senior Center’s overall operating budget from the $163,000 requested to $157,000, which is still more than the $151,000 the Center actually spent to operate last year.
Council members are in the midst of meeting with many of the township’s department heads in an effort to reduce the proposed 2013 budget, which calls for a 4.9% increase in taxes.
According to Mayor Bill Laforet, the increase will amount to $59 for the average homeowner in Mahwah.
“That increase [would] affect every citizen in the township,” Roth said. “And every senior citizen on a fixed income.”
Roth also reiterated his support for an idea proposed by Councilman Roy Larson at the last budget meeting - having the seniors pay a small fee to attend each class. But, Senior Center Committee Chair Pat Spiech said a past attempt to charge for an art class proved unsuccessful.
The council members who attended Wednesday's meeting - who were three of the four who voted for the cut - said they would reconsider the $6,000 cut at a future budget meeting of the full township council. Members said they are willing to “compromise” because of the seniors’ show of support for the classes.
Several seniors said they left the meeting hopeful that council members would reinstate the money, and the full course load of classes would continue to be offered in 2013.
“Compromise is a big word for them to use,” Fox said. “So, we’ll see what happens.”