CONCORD -- The nonprofit Concord Senior Citizens Club says it can no longer afford to keep the city's senior center open for several hours on Thursdays.
Since 2009, the club has been paying Concord about $23,000 per year to ensure that the senior center is open five days a week. But the fee has strained the club's tight finances -- it has been operating at a deficit for the past four years -- and is no longer feasible, said Harry Driskill, senior club president.
"This is a small little part of the city budget, but to us it's big," he said. "It's killing us and it's really not helping them that much."
When Concord was struggling to cut expenses during the recession, the Parks and Recreation Department proposed closing the senior center on Thursdays, according to Director Joan Carrico. But Contra Costa County and the Meals on Wheels program serve free lunch to about 30 to 40 seniors on Thursdays, so the senior club agreed to pay the city's rental fee to keep the center open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
With the 5 percent discount on the rental fee the city grants nonprofit organizations, the senior club pays $118.75 an hour for Thursdays, according to Avis Connolly, the senior center's program manager. The club also pays to use the senior center after the regular 4 p.m. closing time on weekdays and anytime on weekends, but the rate varies depending on which rooms the club uses, Connolly said.
In May, the senior club paid Concord a total of $4,500 -- including $2,300 for the Thursday rent, according to Driskill.
The senior club raises money with twice-weekly bingo games and dinners, but its biggest source of revenue is the $14 a year in dues from its 2,000 members, Driskill said. Although the club recently cut expenses and increased some fees, including raising from $4 to $10 the monthly charge for unlimited billiards, it isn't enough.
"The thing is, we can't raise our fees too high because we have senior citizens here and a lot of them are on fixed incomes," Driskill said. "We have to keep that in mind to keep everything as low-priced as possible to keep people coming."
Councilman Ron Leone unexpectedly asked his colleagues to waive the senior club's Thursday rent for the remainder of the year during the June 24 meeting, when the council approved the fiscal year 2014-15 budget. Councilman Edi Birsan suggested the city eliminate the charge altogether.
"There's no group that has done as much for the senior center as the senior club," Birsan said. "Quite frankly, it should be a permanent feature. We should never have to go to the senior club to ask them to pay for opening the doors."
But Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister objected to waiving the rental fee, saying it wouldn't be fair to other community groups that also had agreed to pay more. For example, the Terrapins swim team pays an additional $9,000 to use the outdoor Concord Community Pool to offset higher heating bills during the three coldest months of the year -- typically November through January, Carrico said.
"I want to support the seniors, but I think, in fairness because other groups are paying, I don't know the situation well enough at this point to say 'go ahead and waive the fee,'" Councilman Dan Helix said.
Council members decided to suspend billing for July and August and discuss the Thursday rental fee at the first council meeting in September when they have complete information about the payment agreements the city made with all of the community groups, including the senior club.
Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.