Increased funding for a West Mobile senior center has the management of a Midtown health center questioning Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s 2016 proposed budget.

Via! on Dauphin Street, known as Senior Citizens Services Inc. in the budget document, will receive level funding of $85,000 in the proposed budget. While there is no change from 2015, the allocation does represent a cut of about $84,000 from 2014, Executive Director Dorothy Dorton said.

(Photo/Dale Liesch) Via Center management is questioning why the new city budget keeps them at the same funding while increasing a senior center in west Mobile.

(Photo/Dale Liesch) Via Center management is questioning why the new city budget keeps them at the same funding while increasing a senior center in west Mobile.

Meanwhile, in the same proposed budget, the Connie Hudson Mobile Regional Senior Community Center on Hillcrest Road in West Mobile will receive $459,063 for operating and personnel expenses through the Parks and Recreation budget. This represents an increase of more than $60,000 compared to 2015 actuals.

Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch said while the West Mobile center is a city facility, Via! is not, which is why Via! is funded through a performance contract and the Connie Hudson center is funded in the actual budget. Wesch added that in 2015, the city made the last of 10 $100,000 payments to Via! as part of its capital campaign to expand the Mary Abby Berg Center.

The Connie Hudson center, which opened in 2008, was constructed with the help of a $394,000 bond. The annual debt service payment is made from state funds and doesn’t appear in the budget, Wesch said.

Dorton said the city’s cut in funding to Via! last year would’ve resulted in deep cuts to the center’s budget, but board members stepped up and donated money to help. Even with the donations, Via! had to cut two staff positions and began closing on Saturdays.

“When we started closing on Saturday we saw a 10 percent drop in membership,” Director of Resource Development Barbara Estes said. “It has a ripple effect.”
Dorton said if the city funding remains the same as last year, the center will have to begin closing at 2 p.m. on Fridays and cutting every employee by four hours a week.

Via! does get funding from other sources, as the city’s contribution only makes up about 10 percent of the center’s $700,000 budget. At one point, city funds made up about 22 percent of the center’s funding, Dorton said.

In addition to city funds, Via! receives funding from the United Way of Southwest Alabama, the Mobile Housing Board, private donations and by selling memberships for visitors 18 and older. The center also offers scholarships for low-income visitors.

“For every $120 we bring in we give back $820 worth of services,” Dorton said.
Programming makes up the majority of the Via! expenditures at about 37 percent. The next highest is building, maintenance and utilities at 28 percent of the budget. In addition to a fitness and community center, Via! also provides senior adult care, home care services, transportation, outreach, veterans programs, an emergency resource center, an emergency food pantry and other services.

Via! board president Olabode Anise said both centers are needed for the seniors in the community.

“It’s all about the seniors,” he said. “The senior citizens of the city contributed a great deal to the city. We should be able to give back, but we can’t because of the budget.”

Councilman Levon Manzie, who represents the area surrounding Via!, said the city council is looking at ways to resolve the funding issue.

“All hope is not lost,” Manzie said. “We’ll address Via! funding and it’ll get more than the mayor proposed.”

Manzie said Via! offers a range of services the Connie Hudson center “doesn’t begin to offer.”

“It’s one of the greatest assets for senior citizens who don’t live in West Mobile,” he said. “We’ll make sure they have the resources they need.”