October 16, 2013As LifeSpan Resources prepares for what may be its last senior lunch at the Frenchtown Community Center, those who gather there to eat and socialize are still looking for answers.
The questions arose last month when LifeSpan received a letter from Spencer Township Trustee Donald Satterfield saying the Memorandum of Agreement between Spencer Township and LifeSpan must be terminated. (The agreement had been in place since Jan. 1, 2010.) Satterfield wrote in the letter, "Spencer Township can no longer continue to provide utilities including gas, electricity, water and telephone at no cost to LifeSpan as these expenses far exceed the donation of $100 per month paid by LifeSpan."
The letter, dated Aug. 28 but not received by LifeSpan until Sept. 16, said the termination would be effective Oct. 1.
The Frenchtown Community Center is a place for seniors to go not only to receive a meal, but to experience social interaction with their peers.
Residents of the township, as well as others, attended a second public hearing, this one on Oct. 1, where Satterfield and his three-member advisory board (Ed Sieg, Bob Smith and James Goldman, who was appointed late last month to complete the term of the late Kenneth Flock) discussed and later approved the 2014 budget. (The first hearing was Sept. 17.) Both meetings, which took place at the Satterfield home in Depauw, where the township trustee maintains his office, had people squeezed into the meeting room and left many standing outdoors.
Many of those in attendance last week left out of frustration about 10 minutes after the meeting started but chose to gather in the yard to discuss the situation. A few remained indoors to hear anything that might transpire. One of those was Josh Trotter, who disclosed later that he is married to Satterfield's granddaughter. As Satterfield and the board went about their business, Trotter attempted to serve as a mediator between the four men and those seeking answers. He later went outside to speak with the mostly senior crowd.
Goldman also was willing to try to answer questions, although at one point he said he didn't have much desire to when he was being called a liar at a public meeting. He told the group that the issue wasn't that they didn't want LifeSpan to use the center, but rather it was the fact that utilities were running $15,000 a year for the community room.
"It's our biggest expense," Sieg said, asking that both sides be open to negotiations, at least until the state sends back the township budget.
"I don't want to close the center," Smith said.
When he said LifeSpan hadn't gotten back with them about an alternative solution, someone reminded him that the seniors had offered to pay more for their meals (increasing them from $2 to $3) with the extra revenue going toward the utilities.
"You can't just put a coffee can out," Smith replied.
But, the seniors said they were willing to write up a contract.
Satterfield, who accomplished getting the center/firehouse built in 2005, reminded everyone that "nobody worked harder than me to get that center."
Goldman later pointed out that neither he nor the other board members knew that Satterfield had sent the letter, that, according to Indiana Code, Satterfield did not need the board's approval to terminate the agreement because it was under $25,000.
By the weekend, word had circulated that the senior meal program was being shut down because the Ramsey Volunteer Fire Department, which uses half of the building in Frenchtown as its Station No. 3, wanted to use the community center for a training room and equipment storage.
Ned Wiseman, the fire department's chief, said Monday that he had not made that request nor had anyone approached him about using the community room for any such purpose.
"I've received calls from the community asking about it," he said. "I want people to have a nice place to go."
When asked about a new lock reportedly placed on the door that separates the community room from the fire department side, Wiseman said there was already a lock on the door, which should have been used for security and safety purposes.
Wiseman also said the fire department makes no financial contributions for its part of the building but it does pay to have the grass mowed and for snow removal.
"I feel horrible for the people in the community," he said.
Sandy DuBois, who is LifeSpan's coordinator for the Frenchtown site, said last week that Goldman believes the needed funds are in the township budget to keep the center open through the end of the year.
"So, we have a little hope," she said. "The bottom line is, will Don Satterfield approve. He has the final say; that's what the board claims."
DuBois, who serves between 20 and 60 meals each weekday at Frenchtown, is acting under the assumption that Oct. 25 will be the center's last day; a Halloween party is planned.
"The next week will be spent packing up the site," DuBois said. "The homebound meals will be delivered from the Corydon site. As for congregate meals, there is no plan at the moment."
Those who are hoping to get a reprieve from the termination of the agreement have started a Facebook page, Save the Community Center in Spencer Township, and had made more than 160 "friends" as of Monday.