Senior center on chopping block - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Topstory

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Senior center on chopping block

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Posted: Friday, February 5, 2010 12:00 am

The Phoenix City Council approved expanding the sales tax to food, but it is not clear where the $60 million a year it generates will go.

Meanwhile the proposed city budget calls for the closure of five city senior centers, including the one at Pecos Park.

“I think it’s so wrong,” said Barbara Scott, who has been active in the Ahwatukee Foothills senior programs for five years. “If I don’t come here, I’m lost.”

She explained that for many seniors, the food served at the center could be their only hot meal of the day. But more importantly, for those who live alone, it’s a way to stay in touch with people and socialize. Without a senior center, some seniors could go days without speaking to another human being.

“This is their only connection to life, to talk. It’s like a family,” Scott said.

For others, the center provides a needed escape.

“My parents come to the center and would be devastated if it closed,” said Paula Osterdan, who said her mother has the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease.

“This is my dad’s respite,” she said.

The impression for some is that Ahwatukee Foothills is so affluent, it doesn’t need a senior center where people can gather to play bingo, have lunch or watch a movie.

Not true, said Leeanne Pantin, the center’s supervisor.

“Not everyone drives a Lexus,” Pantin said.

But almost all have telephones, and they have started calling the city voicing their support for the center.

Virginia Morton also is organizing seniors to attend the Feb. 18 budget meeting, which will be in the seniors’ main room in the Pecos Park Community Center.

“We really have to get out to the budget hearing,” she said.

But Morton, and the other seniors know that with a massive $140 million budget shortfall, just asking for the program to continue won’t be enough.

Some ideas they have been knocking around include reduced operating hours to cut cost, raising fees on seniors and perhaps going to a four-day week.

After years of budget cuts to accommodate shrinking sales tax revenues, the city has moved from deferring some maintenance and cutting overtime to closing some libraries, recreation and sports complexes and laying off 1,400 staff, including 144 firefighters and 286 police officers.

And that’s assuming that state lawmakers don’t cut the amount of state shared revenues they are required to give the city or that sales tax revenues don’t continue to fall.

A series of public hearings are scheduled to begin next week, and the council will take final action on the budget in March.

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