Council members maintain committed to original amount, open to adding more later after donations totaled

A quarter million dollar increase to the Senior Activity Center expansion budget was not included in 2016-17 city budget approved at the city council meeting Tuesday.

City council members say they support the growing needs of the Senior Center but want to see what donations don't cover before increasing amount budgeted for the expansion project.

The bids for the senior center expansion project that will double the size of the current faculty came in higher than expected, said city finance director Ann Honza. The city had previously approved supporting the expansion project up to $500,000.

After receiving the bids, the senior center leadership considered ways to cut down on the cost including reducing the size of the building or eliminating the porch feature, she said. The center director Karen Cox also asked the Midlothian Community Development board (4B) and city council to increase the construction budget allotted to the center by $250,000 each. The 4B board agreed at their Sept. 7 meeting to increase the amount they were giving the center for construction by the $250,000 if the city would also chip in the requested extra. But the 4B also stipulated the original design be used.

With the increased budget, the city and 4B would have been covering the entire cost of the construction project, minus the money the center has been able to contribute or fundraise, Honza said. There are several other donors who have promised to contribute but have not set a monetary amount yet because they are waiting to see final plans. Some are local companies that will donate materials to the project, but the amount of those donations cannot be determined until the plans are set, she added.

The center was requesting the city contribute up to $750,000 toward the project.

“Our hope is this amount will end up being too high as these additional donations end up coming in and reduce the gap,” said city manager Chris Dick.

That large of a blank check made several council members uneasy.

“4b or not, it is still tax money. Taxpayers contributions have gone from a half million dollars to a million dollars,” said council member TJ Henley referring to the total of the original $500,000 promised to the project by the city and the additional $250,000 requested from each the city and the 4B.

While council member Jimmie McClure agreed with Henley, she voiced concerns that delaying the project to rebid would only allow the price to increase.

The council decided on a compromise to allow the project to move forward and see how donations and costs would play out.

“We can approve the original amount so they can keep on moving, then we can come back later with an add on depending on what they need,” council member Tedd Miller suggested.

Council members made it clear they wanted to improve the center and the role it played in serving the community.

“We want the improvements to the center, but we don't want to be irresponsible,” Henley said.

The city budget and tax rates were approved without further changes.