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Santa Rosa to review decision charging nonprofits to use facilities

The Santa Rosa City Council agreed to review its recent decision to begin charging non-profit groups for the use of city facilities after two organizations that use the Bennett Valley Senior Center said they can't afford to pay.

The Council on Aging recently stopped offering free lunches to low-income seniors at the center through the Meals on Wheels Program after Mayor Scott Bartley informed the group it would have to start paying $22,000 per year for the privilege.

Similarly, a volunteer tax preparation aid program run out of the center for decades by the American Association of Retired People Foundation also said it would not be able to offer its services next year if the city required them to pay.

The groups brought the changes to the attention of council members in recent weeks in the hopes they can be exempted from the policy of charging all non-profits for use of city facilities.

"While I understand it's a sensitive issue … the fact is it's a policy we established," Mayor Scott Bartley said Tuesday.

Meals on Wheels stopped serving lunches to seniors at the center last month, shifting the service to other locations at nearby senior communities. Third District Supervisor Shirlee Zane, former executive director of the Council on Aging, took Bartley to task for the decision.

"I think we can all agree that depriving seniors of nutritious meals is not a good way to tighten your fiscal belt," Zane wrote.

Helen Crisman, regional coordinator of the federally funded tax-preparation program, also drafted a strongly worded letter to the city.

"As things now stand, your new fees are putting our program in both Sonoma and Napa in serious jeopardy," Crisman wrote.

On Tuesday, Councilwoman Robin Swinth said she had spoken with representatives of the AARP Foundation and hoped the council could revisit the policy.


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