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Senior, community orgs receive city contributions

The Center and Brainerd Community Action will receiving funding for their programs for the next five years.

City council members sit in council chambers
Brainerd City Council members discuss matters during their meeting Monday, March 21, 2022.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Brainerd Community Action and The Center will continue receiving funds from the city of Brainerd via its charter after an amendment changed the process of obtaining the money.

The Northland Arboretum has also applied for a portion of the funds allocated to nonprofits, but the City Council has not yet acted on that proposal.

Historically, the city’s charter guaranteed a portion of its funds to the Northland Arboretum, Brainerd Community Action and to the establishment and maintenance of a program for the benefit of senior citizens or to subsidize a nonprofit senior citizen organization. For consistency’s sake, the council amended the language last year to exclude the names of specific organizations but commit to supporting entities that provide community programs and events and arboretum or greenspace organizations.

The charter previously said one half mill of the mill levy would be allocated to those groups. Because that term, which relates to property taxes, is outdated, the council changed the language last year to instead say 1.5% of the previous year’s tax levy would be allocated to those causes, which, according to staff, is roughly the same amount of money. This year, that amounts to $240,183, or $80,061 each for three organizations.

If we buy membership dues to The Center for each and every senior citizen in the city, it would be about $50,000. So I would support funding The Center up to a level of $50,000. I don’t support funding beyond that.
Gabe Johnson, Brainerd City Council

With the broader language in the charter and 10-year contracts with Brainerd Community Action, the Northland Arboretum and The Center for the mill funds expiring in 2022, the council also decided to go through a request for proposal process to determine which entities the money will go to.

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The City Council and its Personnel and Finance Committee Monday, March 21, considered four proposals for the funds — two for the senior program money and one each for the other two categories.

The Northland Arboretum applied for the funds dedicated to an arboretum or greenspace organization, proposing to use them to maintain its visitors center and provide staff to create educational and recreational programs surrounding nature. Costs related to utilities, insurance, building maintenance, supplies and competitive wages and benefits continue to increase, Arboretum staff wrote in the proposal. Contributions from the city of Brainerd currently make up 25% of the Arboretum’s annual budget.

Northland Arboretum sign
The Northland Arboretum is a conservation-based nonprofit in Brainerd and Baxter.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

While the Northland Arboretum has land in both Brainerd and Baxter, its visitors center lies in Baxter. And because the recent charter amendment dictates the funds to an organization within Brainerd, the City Council agreed to seek clarification from the city’s Charter Commission on whether the Arboretum qualifies for the money.

Brainerd Community Action was the sole applicant for the community programs funds, proposing to continue spending the money on events like Fourth of July, Arts in the Park, St. Patrick’s Day and neighborhood association gatherings. Along with these events comes advertising, marketing and other professional services.

The council unanimously approved a five-year contract with Brainerd Community Action for the charter funds.

People celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a parade Saturday, March 12, 2022, in downtown Brainerd.
The annual St. Patrick's Day parade is one of the events Brainerd Community Action puts on every year.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

The Center and Be a Pal both applied for the senior programming funds.

The long-established Center in north Brainerd offers games, health and wellness opportunities, arts programs and educational and enjoyment events for senior citizens. Under its proposal, the funds would be used for building expenses, utilities, payroll and other miscellaneous costs relating to tax preparation, supplies, printing, postage, etc.

I’m not a senior citizen, but I’m glad to see some of my tax dollars go to the senior center. I think the operation is just fantastic, and it benefits way more than just the seniors in the city of Brainerd.
Kelly Bevans, Brainerd City Council

Be a Pal is a nonprofit founded in December 2020 that connects adults in senior facilities with penpals. The group works with various lakes area senior facilities, including three in Brainerd, and hopes to expand its programming and its reach to every senior in Crow Wing County. The charter funds would go toward staff wages, programs and activities, office space, supplies, mileage, postage and community outreach.

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Be a Pal provides pen pals to seniors in assisted living facilities in the Brainerd lakes area. The nonprofit began in December 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. There are five facilities participating with 72 seniors and 60 community members corresponding by hand-written letters.

The council ultimately chose to allocate the senior funds to The Center, as council member Tiffany Stenglein pointed out Be a Pal is a fairly new program that’s just getting going and may not be the best use of the city’s money. Council member Kevin Stunek agreed.

“I totally support the program; I think it’s a good program, but it’s just getting its feet wet, and I think we need some groundwork, and we need some history here to be able to start giving money away, in my opinion,” Stunek said Monday during the council’s Personnel and Finance Committee meeting.

While Stenglein, Stunek and ultimately the rest of the council agreed to give the money to The Center, council member Gabe Johnson did not.

The Center Sign.jpg
The Center is a senior citizen's organization in north Brainerd. It provides various programs for seniors and the community at large.
Brainerd Dispatch file photo

Johnson said he supported funding The Center but not at the level of the 1.5% levy funds in the charter.

“These levy dollars should be used to benefit the citizens of Brainerd from whom the dollars were taxed, right? It shouldn’t be benefiting the region.” Johnson said. “... We have 14,395 people in Brainerd. Seventeen percent of them are senior citizens. If we buy membership dues to The Center for each and every senior citizen in the city, it would be about $50,000. So I would support funding The Center up to a level of $50,000. I don’t support funding beyond that.”

Johnson said he didn’t see anything in The Center’s proposal that specifically benefits the senior citizens and residents of Brainerd more than other seniors throughout the region who can also use the facility and programs.

Council President Kelly Bevans, however, said he is not a member of The Center but benefits from it just the same and is usually there weekly for various activities.

“I will guarantee you that I benefit way more than $50 from what they do,” Bevans said. “... I’m not a senior citizen, but I’m glad to see some of my tax dollars go to the senior center. I think the operation is just fantastic, and it benefits way more than just the seniors in the city of Brainerd.”

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The council voted 6-1 for a five-year contract with The Center for the charter funds, with Johnson opposed.

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With the broader language in the charter and 10-year contracts with Brainerd Community Action, the Northland Arboretum and The Center for the mill funds expiring in 2022, the council also decided to go through a request for proposal process to determine which entities the money will go to.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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