Have you ever gotten a utility bill that was far higher than you expected to pay? Imagine if the charges were $45,000 higher than usual —and taxpayers had to foot the bill.
That’s what Mesa officials are coping with now, after learning that the Mesa Senior Center at 247 N. Macdonald exceeded its nearly $80,000 allocation this year by roughly $45,000. The city had to dip into its General Fund to cover the center’s energy cost overruns.
The charges squeeze Mesa just as it faces a shrinking budget for human services programs like teen-suicide hot lines, drug rehabilitation programs and shelters for the homeless.
Much like the seniors, who are on limited incomes and keep a watchful eye on their money, the city is in the same situation, and the overage could force changes to the facility’s operations.
Mesa is leasing the 31,000 square-foot center to the nonprofit East Valley Senior Services for $1 per year. The city also foots the bill for the utilities needed to run the center and is responsible for repairs on the 20-year-old building.
But a long-term lease on the center expires next week, and city officials say some of the costs for running the center could shift to East Valley Senior Services.
“We are in negotiations,” said Kari Kent, neighborhood services director. “We need to decide who is responsible for what.”
The record cold winter drove the expensive power bills, explained Dan Taylor, executive director of East Valley Senior Services. The large building needed to be heated to keep people comfortable, he said.
“That was a surprise to everybody,” he said. “We didn’t have the money to pay the bill.”
Taylor said the nonprofit East Valley Senior Services would have been forced to cut services at the center if the organization had to pay the higher utility bill.
East Valley Senior Services operates on a $3.2 million budget, with half of the money coming from the Area Agency on Aging.
The center offers counseling assistance on senior benefits, help with health care issues like prescription drugs as well as entertainment. Trips are arranged to explore the Rim Country and to bluegrass festivals in Prescott. Weekly dances on Tuesday’s draw hundreds of seniors who enjoy 11-piece dance bands, said Caroline Johnson, a program assistant at the center.
“In the winter time, it is packed in here. Packed,” she said.
On Thursday, Taylor was headed to city offices to discuss the terms of a new lease on the center. Meanwhile, the City Council met behind closed doors at a study session earlier in the morning on the issue.
Taylor said he was “confident” the center would secure a favorable lease with the city. Repairs, cleanup and other items in the lease agreement could change, with an emphasis on lowering city costs.