Senior center retains counsel

The Costa Mesa Senior Center has retained an attorney to guide its board through financial negotiations aimed at keeping the troubled organization afloat.

City officials and four of the 11 senior center board members began discussing the possibility of the city taking over the independent, nonprofit center's finances after budget problems were revealed in an audit published by the city in January.

The audit predicted the nonprofit's organization's general fund would run dry by June.

Since the senior center is unable to sustain itself, the city offered to shore up the evaporating budget by taking over staffing, payroll costs and rent, said senior center board President Judy Lindsay.

The center's executive director, Aviva Goelman, retained an attorney, at the rate of $425 per hour, after Costa Mesa officials suggested the center find someone who would be able to help the nonprofit through the somewhat complex takeover process.

The cost of the lawyer is a necessary expenditure, Lindsay said, to ensure that the senior center enters into a legally binding document with the city.

"It's our fiduciary responsibility to ensure that seniors will be taken care of in the future," she said.

The center's budget of about $850,000 a year was projected to be short about $118,000 for 2014. The facility at 695 W 19th St. largely operates autonomously but relies on the city for some of its funding.

While the city doesn't have a takeover timeline, officials remain dedicated to keeping the center afloat, said Councilwoman Wendy Leece.

"We are definitely on track to be the Coast Guard to rescue the sinking ship," she said, making reference to an analogy presented by board member Barbara Echan during Tuesday's meeting.

Still, several seniors who attended the meeting expressed discomfort with the number of classes being canceled at the center because of staffing problems and the uncertainty faced by the nonprofit.

"The morale in this place is pretty low," said Marilynn Miller, who attends the monthly meetings on behalf of the Senior Advisory Committee. "There's people that the senior center is their whole life. They come here five days a week. Many people are losing interest, and we need to get them back."

Jim Fisler, president of the Mesa Water District's board of directors, and Sue Healey also made their debut at the meeting Tuesday as the city's newly appointed senior center board members.

They are replacing Kathleen Eric and Ernie Feeney, who resigned from the board shortly after the audit was published.

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