The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has set aside $2 million in its capital improvement budget for the Center at Belvedere, a new senior center that is set for construction in the Belvedere neighborhood next year. And one county resident isn’t happy about the partnership.
“I think it is wrong for government officials to spend public tax dollars on private organizations,” says Gary Grant, who lives in the Rio District. “It’s so damn frustrating that I don’t think they really take constituents—taxpayers—as serious when we have serious concerns about certain topics.”
In email correspondence with a county resident that Grant was included on, Supervisor Rick Randolph said he opposes allocating taxpayer money to support the construction of the Center at Belvedere because he sees no evidence that the needs of at-risk and low-income seniors in the Scottsville, Esmont, Crozet and Cismont areas will be addressed by the new facility. Randolph has not made a motion to pull those funds out of the budget, and according to Grant, has said he will not because he doesn’t think another board member will second his motion.
Randolph declined to comment.
Grant also challenged Supervisor Ann Mallek at one of her district’s recent town hall meetings, proposing that she and her board use some of that budgeted money for the public’s benefit, by hiring more police or increasing teacher salaries—all things the board members have supported. They will officially adopt the budget on April 18.
Albemarle County is one of the few counties or cities in the commonwealth that doesn’t have a department for aging, and while the Parks and Recreation Department is able to help publicize programs at the Senior Center, currently located on Pepsi Place, it isn’t able to hire a staff to run them, according to Mallek.
This is why a public-private partnership mutually benefits the county and the organization for the elderly, she says. For that same reason, the Board of Supervisors contributed $2 million to the Brooks Family YMCA, which is scheduled to open in McIntire Park this summer. In that case, Mallek says the city donated the land in an agreement it would gain ownership if the facility were to ever change its operation.
Mallek says she will propose that the Center at Belvedere become a county office building if it ever folds.
In the grand scheme, she says, contributing $500,000 annually for four years is a small investment in the $20 million building, which will be 60,000 square feet. “If it were a private club that did not do things for the general public and have 80 percent of its programs open and available and free, then I would not be doing this.”
Some of those programs, according to executive director Peter Thompson, are concerts, dances and classes on the topics of cyber theft, avoiding fraud, health insurance counseling and current events. The Senior Center also partners with several nonprofits such as Hospice of the Piedmont and Alcoholics Anonymous. Most programs are open to the public for free or a nominal fee.
The current Senior Center encompasses 20,000 square feet and serves about 8,000 unique users a year and 100,000 repeat users, according to Thompson. In its 57 years of existence, the center has never sought public funding, “and that’s the way it will be,” he says. The county’s $2 million will be designated specifically for construction of the new center; the current Senior Center building will be sold.
Senior citizens make up 14 percent of the local population, according to information from Weldon Cooper Center. By 2020, the number is expected to more than double, from 27,000 to 56,000.
After five years of planning to accommodate the rising population of elderly people, Thompson says the fact that they are on track to break ground next year means local leadership understands that an aging community is an issue worth investing in.
“It’s not just nice to have a quality senior center. It’s as vital as having great healthcare, great schools and great transportation,” he says. “You don’t become an age-friendly community just by osmosis.”
Says Grant, “I like these people. I don’t like what they’re doing.”