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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Nashua Senior Center members rally in dispute over dues, representation

NASHUA – Up to a dozen members and other people gathered outside the Nashua Senior Activity Center on Wednesday morning to draw attention to a dispute over the center’s future, hoping to get people to attend an Aug. 13 annual meeting.

Elaine Dupuis, of Nashua, stopped on her way out of an aerobics class at the Activity Center to take a slip of paper handed to her by a sign holder. On the paper was a reminder about the annual meeting. ...

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NASHUA – Up to a dozen members and other people gathered outside the Nashua Senior Activity Center on Wednesday morning to draw attention to a dispute over the center’s future, hoping to get people to attend an Aug. 13 annual meeting.

Elaine Dupuis, of Nashua, stopped on her way out of an aerobics class at the Activity Center to take a slip of paper handed to her by a sign holder. On the paper was a reminder about the annual meeting.

In October, Dupuis, a resident of Nashua for 48 years, will have been a member of the center for a year.

“As you get older, you have to have some sort of exercise,” she said. Dupuis said she just found out about the possibility that the center’s board will discuss an increase in membership dues and planned to attend the informational meeting.

“I don’t know if I would pay it,” she said. “I’d probably try to find another exercise program where you could go to the gym and pay $10 a month. Of course they don’t cater to the seniors. You’d be limited in your classes.”

The recent turmoil at the Temple Street center appears to stem from last week’s meeting of the Board of Directors.

On July 25, a day after the meeting, Jeanne Marcoux, executive director since March 2011, abruptly resigned, saying she was moving up her retirement date. She originally planned to retire May 1, then moved it to Dec. 31, then to Aug. 29, according to a person close to the organization who asked for anonymity.

No specific reason for Marcoux’s decision was announced by her or the board.

But the center appears to be approaching a critical financial juncture, according to several people familiar with its operation.

Because the center – unlike most agencies of its kind – receives no funds from the annual city budget, it has always depended on donations, grants, membership dues and occasional rental income to cover its operational costs.

That structure, many people said, is at the root of the current fiscal concerns, which the board addressed at the July 24 meeting. One of the possible solutions floated was a sharp increase in membership dues, which was the apparent catalyst for Wednesday’s demonstration.

On Tuesday, board treasurer Elizabeth Cepaitis said it was she who floated the idea of sharply increasing membership dues, but in return, the higher dues would include all the center’s six- to eight-week programs. Currently, programs cost $35 each, she said.

“It was just a proposal I made,” she said, adding that “the board did not embrace it. Increasing dues is just one of the ways we were talking about” to help bring in funding, Cepaitis said.

“The dues would be higher, but members would attend all of those (programs) at no additional charge. But what I found is that many members don’t take the programs, so I understand why,” she said of members’ protests.

David Fredette, a board member who was appointed earlier this year by Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, said while the topic of possibly raising membership dues has come up, reports that they could triple or quadruple isn’t accurate.

“That’s an exaggeration,” Fredette said. “I know I wouldn’t support such a large increase, and I don’t think many other (board members) would either.”

He described the financial crunch as not unusual for agencies of its kind.

“Like any nonprofit, they have their challenges,” he said, adding that rumors that the agency may shut down are untrue.

On Wednesday, Kelly Noble, a center member since 2011, said she’s there about 4 days a week volunteering and attending activities. She was one of the protest organizers and held a sign outside the building’s front door.

“Where else can you go and have so many activities in one location?” she said. “I always say it’s a great bargain for $35 a year.”

When asked if it would still be a bargain if dues increased but not as high as $125, Noble said, “I’d hate to see it go there.”

Joan Stefano held her sign near the parking lot entrance on Temple Street. She said the proposed dues increase “wasn’t etched in stone, but the members that we have here, most of them have to put money together to pay the $35 a year.

“This is their second home,” said Stefano, and if they raise the dues, they may not be able to afford it, she said.

Patricia Francis, the center’s former longtime director who retired in 2008, said many members are rallying their fellow members to attend the annual meeting to “express to the board their concerns.”

Francis, who became a center volunteer after she retired and regularly runs its bingo games and assists with projects, said she believes board members should be far more visible.

“I always felt they should be more involved in the community on behalf of the center: promoting events, getting people active in wanting to support it,” she said.

Francis, in a letter to the editor that appeared in Tuesday’s Telegraph, criticized city officials for not introducing a budget line item to help fund the center.

“Hudson supports their center, and so do Pelham, Salem, Manchester,” she wrote. “And many other (cities and towns) do. Nashua does not. What can the problem be?”

Cepaitis agreed that receiving regular city funding would go a long way toward solving the center’s financial challenges, but also pointed out the fact the city floated a 20-year bond to build the center and the senior housing units on its upper floors.

“To be fair, what the city does do is pay on that bond every year. But we still need to work hard to meet the costs,” she said of the board.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS). Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or dhimsel@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Himsel on Twitter (@Telegraph_DonH).