By Tricia Pursell

The Daily Item

PENNS CREEK -- Senior centers in Union and Snyder counties have not been operating according to state and federal regulations that are meant to keep their money safe, according to Holly Kyle, executive director of the Union-Snyder Agency on Aging.

She and other agency officials presided over a public hearing and information session in Penns Creek on Wednesday, attended by approximately 50 members and officers from the Beaver Springs, Penns Creek, Selinsgrove and Lewisburg senior centers.

Based on the audit, Kyle said, she, the agency's board of directors and their legal counsel "have all agreed we need to do things a little bit differently."

Each of the centers has been managing its own money, she said, but more oversight by the agency is necessary in order to better protect the money against theft, she said.

The details, she said, are still being worked out, and may not be implemented until the next fiscal year, which begins in June.

"Truth be told," Kyle said, "this should have been done 35 years ago."

The agency's recent switch to an auditor who understood more about the requirements of nonprofit agencies such as theirs revealed that the centers hadn't been operating according to state regulations.

The auditor, based on what was found, made proposals that included requiring the centers to make routine banking deposits and making sure two signatures appear on every check.

Members said they had concerns.

"What we're afraid of is, if we turn over our money to you, then we have no more individuality," said Ron Kline, treasurer of the Beaver Springs center.

"Basically, we're putting all of our rocks in one pile," added the center's president, George Manning Jr. "What if someone steals the rock pile?"

While Snyder County Commissioner and Agency board member Peggy Chamberlain Roup made a promise that the board would not allow theft to take place within its walls, the seniors didn't seem to be so sure.

"Who do you trust?" asked Beaver Springs center member Donald Moyer. The local people will be watched, he said, but there is just as much corruption in state and local government.

Kyle also promised that each center's money would not be comingled with the other centers' funds. What they raise is theirs, and for use as their individual officers desire.

"We come to you today with recommendations that came from our auditor," Roup said. "We have no intention of closing our centers. We have no intention of pushing anything on you."

She said in the coming months, members and officers of the center will be able to meet with the agency officials to offer further input on how the details will be worked out.

Senior centers are required to reimburse the agency 30 percent of their assessed expenses which include utilities.

The Area Agency on Aging does more than just fund the operation of senior centers -- including providing transportation, meals, in-home assistance, and protective services.

In the program's beginning approximately 35 years ago, according to Union County Commissioner and agency board member John Showers, it was focused on the senior center facilities.

State leaders later issued more responsibilities for the Agency of Aging, and "the money didn't always follow," he said.

And now, "the state isn't exactly saying the centers are very important."

However, the local board believes that they are, he said, and they are looking for ways to get communities to become more involved in supporting their local senior centers.

Manning said the Beaver Springs Senior Center is about $10,000 behind in payments.

"We have no income, we have no source for the money," he said. "We'll never be in the red ... with the rate we're going."

The center must pay the agency $428 a month, just to stay above water, but even that isn't possible with the group they have now, he said.

"There's no way we're going to make it,"he added.

Meanwhile, the morale of the members is waning, and efforts in fundraising seem to be in vain, as they believe none of it will return to their center.

Instead, Manning said, "They know every penny they make is going to be turned over to the agency."

He believes the result will eventually be a loss in its current membership, which numbers 60.

"In an ideal world, we'd have a budget large enough to pay for all of the centers," Kyle said, adding that she is willing to engage in further discussion on what the agency can do to help the center meet its expenses. But the budget is getting smaller as the state keeps reducing the funding.

Last year, however, the Union-Snyder Agency on Aging remained solvent, despite other counties that were forced to reduce operating hours and even to close down some of their senior centers.

Kyle did suggest that the members contact their senators and representatives.

"There is money in the lottery reserves, sitting there," she said, that should be available for the centers to use. However, the state has not released it, and even though the agency has complained, "Sometimes it feels," Kyle said, "it's falling on deaf ears."

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