“I’ll stand if that’s OK,” Francis Warden said to the Sparks City Council members who considered handing the center back to the county and shutting the doors at 1 p.m. She was overcome with emotion as she wheeled her way up to the podium with the help of a walker. “We would do anything to keep the senior center going. We’re like family … I’m sorry I cried.”
Tracy Domingues, director of the city of Sparks Parks and Recreation Department, brought the item before the council to ask the city to revoke an amendment to an interlocal agreement with Washoe County, which would require the county to shut the doors early every day. Sparks had agreed to operate and serve seniors at the county center a year ago.
“It’s been about a year since we added the amendment to this agreement,” Domingues said. “Last year, we were asked to assist Washoe County to keep to doors open at the senior center and have them properly secured at 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. This has been difficult to provide. We don’t feel the demand has increased since we’ve been there.”
One issue, Domingues and her staff said, was that Sparks Parks and Recreation was not able to provide its own programing, as seniors at the center already had programming of their own.
According to one center user, Shirley Hendricks, 16 activities per week happen after 1 p.m.
“Where are those people going to go?” Hendricks asked the council members. “They don’t want to go to Reno. They live in Sparks. They want to go to Sparks. I would hate to see you take away those exercise classes. It’s important to us.”
Grady Tarbutton, director of Washoe County Senior Services, said the problem mainly came down to money and the fact that the county didn’t have the funds to pay a part-time worker to ensure the doors were locked at the end of the day.
“We’re looking for $16,000 from county budget to do that,” Tarbutton told the council. “The county is willing to consider anything to keep it open as much as possible.”
The morning hours are staffed, as many other county senior centers are, by a federally funded worker.
“I always viewed this current arrangement as a band aid,” said Councilwoman Julia Ratti. “We went into this with our eyes wide open.”
Ratti suggested using volunteers, but depending on volunteers to lock the doors at night was an issue of liability for the county.
“The programs by the county are programs run by program participants,” Ratti said. “I really respect what the participants are doing. It’s a very informal system. They put on classes for themselves, that’s the part that is so heartbreaking for me. Why can’t we get past this risk-management issue?”
One senior agreed.
“We just want to say to everyone, we are like a family at the Sparks Senior Center,” said one woman who spoke during public comment. “We come in by (RTC ACCESS) bus. If we could go at least until 4 p.m. we have so many wonderful groups in the afternoon. That’s what keeps all these women healthy. I hope you will look at this.”
Councilman Mike Carrigan suggested that the city of Sparks find a way to provide more funding, at least until another solution — perhaps a property tax increase to provide additional senior funding — could be found.
“If we need to kick in some bucks to do that, I’m willing to do that,” Carrigan said.
According to Tarbutton, the county receives $1.2 million in property taxes for senior services, but these funds mainly pay for the Administrative Services building, food services, grant funding, staff salaries and other expenses. A grassroots effort to gain additional ad valorum taxes for seniors was discussed.
“I’m just trying to keep this thing open ’til 4 p.m.,” Carrigan said. “What do we need to do to keep it open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.? Tell me what we need to do?”
Tarbutton said he wanted to sit down with Domingues and come up with different strategy.
“I just want to find a solution,” Carrigan said. “I’m willing to give you that time. If it’s just money, we’ll come up with some money.”
The matter was tabled until a meeting in September, passed by all but Councilman Ron Schmidt, who spoke out about having to pay twice to senior services in the county.
In other news, the Sparks City Council was also expected to consider passing an agreement that would link Sparks Fire Department with Reno Fire Department, allowing the two to share automatic aid in the event of emergencies.
The Sparks Fire Department, like all departments in Nevada, maintains cooperative agreements with local, state and federal agencies to provide resources to assist each other with emergencies that exceed the department’s capabilities. These “automatic aid” agreements allow fire departments to quickly call upon each other’s services at a moment’s notice.
Sparks and Reno fire departments have had a long-standing relationship that had remained unchanged for many years. However, with the dissolution of the consolidated Reno/Truckee Meadows Fire Department, “it became necessary to prepare a separate cooperative agreement with each of the agencies to maintain our ability to receive and provide mutual and auto aid,” according to Sparks Fire Chief Andy Flock.
The agreement with the Reno Fire Department provides the Sparks Fire Department with access to staffed emergency response resources at no cost for up to 12 hours from the beginning of an incident.
It also provides for reimbursement of incurred costs past 12 hours. The reimbursement rates are agreed upon and are listed in an “Annual Operating Plan.”
“Staff believes that this agreement has a balance of billable and non-billable risk,” Flock said in the staff report.
Christopher Good, spokesman for the city of Reno, said the agreement was fairly standard. Reno City Council members also are expected to consider a similar agreement Wednesday.
“We don’t think this is very controversial at all,” Good said. “This has never been an issue between the city of Sparks and the city of Reno. We’ve always done these as a matter of course.”
The agreement would take effect July 1, the same day the county’s new Truckee Meadows/Sierra Fire Department will officially begin service.