Breckenridge Texan

Breckenridge citizens plead with City to save senior center, animal shelter, and pool

Breckenridge citizens plead with City to save senior center, animal shelter, and pool
June 02
08:01 2020

Emotions ran high Tuesday night, May 26, as more than 40 local citizens turned out at the National Theatre for a special meeting of the Breckenridge City Commission to discuss the future of several City departments, including the senior citizens center, the animal shelter and the swimming pool. The discussion about several of the topics will continue at the commission’s regular monthly meeting tonight, Tuesday, June 2.

May 26 Meeting

Ten people spoke in the formal Public Testimony section of the meeting, and several others spoke out from their seats as the discussion continued. The meeting was held at the National Theatre, instead of the usual City Commission Chambers, because of the large crowd expected and the need for social distancing in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The evening’s topics have a specific significance to most of the people in attendance, and the speakers repeatedly expressed their sorrow, fear, anger, frustration and/or confusion over the situation that has led to the possibility that several City of Breckenridge services will be closed or drastically altered as the commissioners deal with a budget shortfall. Additionally, the City commissioners and staff members at the meeting were in the position of having to defend their proposed solutions to the problem.

Breckenridge Mayor Bob Sims started off the meeting by explaining to the crowd that the City’s efforts to hire a replacement for retired city manager Andy McCuistion had failed when their chosen candidate didn’t show up for the final interview.

The Breckenridge City Commission and City officials listen as a citizen speaks at the May 26 meeting held at the National Theatre. The meeting focused on several departments that are being considered for closure due to budget shortfalls. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/ Breckenridge Texan)

“That has left us in a quandary,” Sims said, explaining that, as a temporary solution, Heather Robertson-Caraway and Houston Satterwhite have been named the interim co-city managers. “… we’re working under the constraints of what we have, trying to make-do with what we have, and this has been a hard budget year. I think you all realize that. That’s the reason why we’re here tonight, to try to answer some of these questions. … we’re here to do what’s best for the citizens of Breckenridge.”

When City Commissioner David Wimberley spoke later in the meeting, he said that the City of Breckenridge is facing a budget deficit of more than $400,000 this year. “Somebody is going to have to make those decisions about where we’re going to cut that money, and I’m going to be one of those people to help make those decisions,” he said. “We are equally concerned. I’m from here. I care about our community. I do not want us to dry up and blow away. … I want y’all to know that we do care and we’re down here doing the best we can.”

Earlier this month, Satterwhite and Robertson-Caraway said that shortly before he retired, McCuistion told the employees in the departments of Aging Services, Animal Welfare and the Cemetery office that they would be laid off in June and their departments closed. Also, the commissioners voted to not open the Aquatic Center this summer due to coronavirus concerns, as well as expected expenses.

Last Tuesday’s meeting was called to gather input from the community about how the departments might be saved.

After Sims’ opening remarks, the citizens who had pre-registered to speak at the meeting were given five minutes each at the microphone, which was set up at a podium facing the commissioners, who were sitting at a table on the theater’s stage. As each speaker started talking, their time allotment was projected on a large screen behind the commissioners, and the minutes and seconds ticked down from 5:00 to 0:00.

Some, like Barbara Powers, spoke about all of the departments being considered for closure. “The things that are marked — the swimming pool, the animal shelter, the cemetery, the senior citizens (center) — they’re not a charity of the community; they are the children, the elderly, the animals,” she said. “If we shut these things off, we’re going to shut the soul of the city off.”

Dona Stuard talked about the need for more economic development in the city, including bringing in more restaurants and other larger businesses,  that would benefit the City with additional tax revenue. Jay Marcom talked about the various City budgets and costs.

Senior Citizens Center

Sue Barrier was the first to address the commissioners, and she spoke about the value of the Senior Citizens Center in Breckenridge.

One of the options proposed is to have Stephens Memorial Hospital prepare the meals that are delivered to the home-bound residents on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. SMH already works with Meals on Wheels to provide the meals that are delivered on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, the proposal doesn’t list plans for the meals that are served at the center or for the games and other activities that are offered there.

Barbara Powers spoke about the need for the Senior Citizens Center, the animal shelter, the swimming pool and the upkeep of the cemetery. To see more photos from the meeting, click here to see the Breckenridge Texan’s Photo Gallery. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/ Breckenridge Texan)

Barrier compared the meals from SMH with those served by the Senior Citizens Center, making it clear she prefers the latter. However, she also stressed that the center isn’t just a place to eat.

“The Senior Citizens (Center) offers more than food,” she said. “It’s a place that we need to socialize. We need that time. There’s a food bank that goes there on Thursdays twice a month that gives out food to those who need it. There’s bingo. We need to interact with each other. Don’t stick us in our homes just to sit there and die.”

She went on to say that she and others are willing to volunteer at the center to keep it going but that they don’t know the process for volunteering to help at the city-run facility.

“We all still have brains, and we like using them. Just because we’ve reached a certain age doesn’t mean we can’t volunteer to do things,” Barrier said. “I can’t lift things and I can’t walk far, but, boy, I can set up and fundraise like you wouldn’t believe. Let us help y’all. … If you close all this, it’s like killing our city.”

Max VanMeter, whose wife works at the Senior Citizens Center, also spoke in favor of keeping the center open, stressing the importance of offering affordable meals for low-income senior citizens, as well as the necessity of having a place for the elderly to socialize. “What are you going to do with these seniors? They go up there to socialize; they play cards, they play dominoes,” he said. “Some of these people make $400 or $500 a month. Some of them can’t afford $4 a meal.”

Nell Steel said that she moved to the area a year and a half ago and was immediately invited to the Senior Citizens Center. “It’s so important for seniors to have a place to go and socialize,” she said. “My whole point is, what can we do to help this? … There are so many kind people here and so many brilliant minds here in town, what is it that we can do? I don’t want to see the Senior Citizens Center just shut down before you give us a chance to, at least, put our heads together and come up with some ideas to solve the situation, because that’s what we want to do.”

Steel offered up several ideas, such as forming a citizens committee to help come up with a plan and organize volunteers. She also suggested moving the Senior Citizens Center into a bigger building that could encompass several departments, including senior services, something for local kids and an animal shelter.

“I’m an ex-teacher; I would love to read to children and help children with their homework. Seniors love kids,” she said, suggesting that youth could also be taught to help out with animals at the shelter, helping to find homes for them. “Just give us a chance, instead of just shutting it down right away. Give us a chance so that we can at least come up with an idea.”

Beth Morris addressed the commissioners, explaining that she moved here in 1973. “I feel like this is my town, I really do,” she said. “I enjoy the Senior Citizens (Center) for a lot of reasons. A lot of people that come, they have lost their mates and they don’t have a lot to do. We have all become a family, and we allow anybody to be part of that family … We give them a reason to go on.”

Morris, who used a walker to make her way to the podium, offered her assistance in helping to keep the Senior Citizens Center open. “I’m willing to do whatever I can to volunteer to help do something,” she said. “If y’all could find another place for us or help us locate another place or whatever. … I think most of us have pretty good minds. … I think I still got enough oomph in me that I can get in there and help.”

At the end of the meeting, Morris approached the stage and handed the City Commissioners a $100 donation to be used for the Senior Citizens Center.

Animal Shelter

Kathy O’Shields addressed the City Commission on behalf of the Stephens County Humane Society. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Kathy O’Shields spoke on behalf of the Stephens County Humane Society, explaining that the organization helped build the current animal shelter and donates $60,000 a year for the care of the animals housed there. Additionally, the Humane Society works to find homes for the animals.

“The City Manager chose to close the weakest departments in the city, the Senior Citizens (Center) and all staff, the Cemetery and staff, and the (Animal) Shelter and all its staff,” she said. “As we know, the elderly can’t speak for themselves, our loved ones buried in the cemetery certainly can’t, and the animals have no voice but ours. We will continue to be the voice of the animals and will continue to work to help the citizens.”

For more details about the plans for the City’s animal control, see the “Moving Forward” section of this article.

Swimming Pool

Krista Wilcox and Deedra Boaz addressed the commissioners together, proposing a plan to open the city’s swimming pool. They suggested reducing the operating hours, raising the prices for swimming lessons and other cost-cutting ideas.

Krista Wilcox and Deedra Boaz presented their plan for keeping the Aquatic Center open this summer. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Additionally, Wilcox and Boaz had secured $20,000 — $10,000 from a grant through Stephens County and $10,000 from the Breckenridge Industrial Foundation — to help with opening the pool this year. “It took a little bit of effort, but we were willing to do it because we feel like it’s something that our community needs and our kids need also,” Wilcox said.

However, later in the meeting, Wimberley said that there are repairs that need to be made to the facility before the pool can be opened. “It is not ready to open,” he said.

The controller that controls the chemical output for the pool is not working, and it would take four to six weeks to get in the parts to repair it, Public Services Director Stacy Harrison said.

The Commission voted on May 5 to not open the swimming pool this summer. The issue is not on the June 2 City Commission agenda.

Follow-up Discussions

“I appreciate all of you giving your input; that’s what it’s all about,” Sims told the crowd after the formal speaking session.

Commissioners David Wimberley, Russell Blue and Rob Durham addressed the crowd and also offered insight on the situation.

“Not one of us up here wants to close the Senior Citizens (Center). Not one of us up here wants to close the swimming pool. Not one of us up here wants to close the Animal Shelter,” Wimberley said. “But, the true, hard fact is the economy in Breckenridge, Texas, is not booming, and we are going to have to make some cuts that people are not going to like. I will tell you that, just rough estimates, to keep the services that you’re talking about…would be be about a 30 percent increase in your taxes, which I’m not going to vote to do.”

Wimberley went on to tell the crowd that the City budget is more than $400,000 short this year. “All of these cuts that we’re talking about are temporary until we can figure out anything better,” he said. “Nobody wants to permanently close anything.”

Durham suggested creating an Aging Services task force including those at the meeting who expressed a desire to volunteer.

Moving Forward

After the meeting, City staff members continued to work on plans to try and ensure that the needs of Breckenridge citizens are met while solving the budget problem.

Robertson-Caraway and Satterwhite met with Stephens Memorial Hospital officials on Friday afternoon and discussed a plan for the hospital to take over the Senior Citizens Center operations. Under the proposed plan, the hospital will take over the home-delivered meals on Mondays,  Wednesdays and Fridays, and then on July 1 SMH will take over the facility, Robertson-Caraway said.

However, she said, the plan is not finalized. She said she and Satterwhite will present the proposal to city commissioners at Tuesday night’s meeting and the SMH representatives will have to present it to their board of directors for approval.

Based on those discussions Friday, Robertson-Caraway said, they decided they will keep everyone at the senior center working until Friday, June 5.

“Basically instead of leaving on June 3, their last day would be June 5, except for the full-time employee Cheryl and she will remain until June 30 to keep the building open for the congregant,” she said. “But home-delivered meals will be done by the hospital effective June 8,” she said.

She also said the current staff has been invited to go online and apply at the hospital for the potential positions. “There’s no promises that SMH isn’t going to use the current staff they already have,” she said. “But I asked and they said yes have them fill out an app online.”

She said the proposal will be discussed at tonight’s City Commission meeting (June 2) and at the June 18 hospital board meeting.

“It’s simply a discussion item we’re filling them in on our conversation with the hospital, and then we have to wait and hear back what happens at their meeting on June 18,” Robertson-Caraway said. “The tentative schedule and planning on our end and their end is to make that happen.”

The home-delivery portion of the issue will be handled with an interlocal agreement between the City and the Hospital District, which will be considered by the city commissioners at tonight’s meeting. The additional plans for the Senior Citizens Center will be covered in the City Manager Reports section of the meeting.

Also at the meeting, the commissioners will consider a request to make a variety of changes to the City’s ordinance dealing with animals. For example, the name of the facility will be changed from the Stephens County Animal Shelter to the Breckenridge Dog Pound and it will be used used primarily for quarantine purposes.

“It’s for quarantine purposes for dangerous dogs,” Robertson-Caraway said. “They will be held for so many days and at that point if they’re not picked up by their original owner, or if they are not picked up by the Humane Society, then they will more than likely be euthanized.”

Animal control will be handled by a Breckenridge police officer whose primary job will be at the dog pound, but during downtime, he will be able to help out with regular patrols and community policing duties, Police Chief Bacel Cantrell said. Additionally, the police department will keep one animal control truck at the dog pound and the other at the police station so that any officer can deal with an animal situation as necessary.

Another aspect of the proposed changes to animal control in Breckenridge include increased enforcement of current laws and ordinances. “We’re not going to be out there writing everybody tickets,” Cantrell said. “We want to educate people and help them get to a place where they can take care of it.  We want voluntary compliance. That’s what this position is going to allow for, to go out and work with somebody to get compliance.”

Part of the plan also involves the Humane Society removing animals from the facility or picking up owner-surrendered pets directly and keeping them in foster homes until permanent homes can be found.

“We’re going to be limited in what we’re doing,” Cantrell said. “It’s not going to be run the same way. Dangerous dogs, aggressive dogs, are going to be our number one priority. We’re not going to be out picking up stray dogs all the time.”

Overall, Cantrell said, the process will be similar to how it’s handled now, but the housing of the animals will be the biggest change.

Tonight’s City Commission meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the City Commission Chambers, 105 N. Rose Ave. Click the following link to download the agenda for the meeting: 06-02-20 CC Agenda

To see more photos from last Tuesday’s meeting, click here to see the Breckenridge Texan’s Photo Gallery.

The Breckenridge City Commission and City Officials held the May 26 meeting in the National Theatre so that more people could attend and still practice the social distancing recommended during the COVID-19 threat. More than 40 people attended the meeting, and 10 spoke during the formal Public Testimony section of the meeting. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/ Breckenridge Texan)

Story by Carla McKeown and Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: Beth Morris talks to the Breckenridge City Commission about the Senior Citizens Center and other facilities the City is considering closing due to budget shortfalls. She was one of 10 local citizens who spoke at the special meeting, which was held in the National Theatre so that more people could attend. For more photos from the event, click here to see the Breckenridge Texan’s Photo Gallery. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

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