BURLINGTON — The Burlington City Council has reversed course on its lease agreement with the Burlington Senior Center.
At its meeting on May 1, the council voted against the proposed lease which would allow the center to occupy its current building at 587 E. State St. without paying rent this year.
“There was no point in the past year where we discussed them not paying rent,” Alderman Jon Schultz said during that meeting. “I think this sets a horrible precedent, and I have zero interest in that.”
Schultz and aldermen Steve Rauch, Todd Baumann and Ryan Heft had voted against the proposed lease.
At last Tuesday’s meeting, the council went into closed session to rediscuss the terms of the lease. But when it went back into open session, the council voted 7-1 in favor of the original lease they’d voted down earlier this month, granting the center no rent for the rest of the year.
Schultz was the only vote in opposition.
During the public comment segment on Tuesday, before the council went into closed session, former Alderman Tom Vos spoke bluntly and gave his thoughts on the council’s rejection of the proposed lease.
“I told you if you made me mad I was going to come back,” said Vos, father of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. “I am absolutely astonished that you could not help those people get a little help with the Senior Citizen’s Center.”
Mayor Jeannie Hefty was involved with the center’s foundation when Ione Deroiser donated her estate to the city specifically so it could create a place for seniors. Deroiser’s funds were put toward remodeling the western end of the Western Racine County Service Center where, for over two decades, the Senior Center was based.
Hefty said that when the county announced Service Center was to be torn down, she, along with Administrator Carina Walters and City Attorney John Bjelajac asked that the county provide $200,000 to the city to purchase the former Knights of Columbus building. It has now been converted to the new Senior Center.
The organization paid for utilities at the Service Center but did not pay rent to the county for its space in the building. With their new facility, the seniors are still paying for utilities as well as a full-time coordinator. They requested some time to work out a budget so they and the city could draft a lease they could afford.
‘Slap in the face’
Vos said if the council rejected the proposed lease, he’d “come back and say we should give the county back its $200 million.”
Vos gave a long list of taxpayer-funded projects over the decades which, he pointed out, have been paid for by the city’s senior citizens — particularly the city’s original community pool.
“You guys turned around and slapped them in the face,” he said.
Vos also said that right after the first vote, he received Burlington Area School District’s community survey asking taxpayers for feedback on a proposed referendum for school building improvements.
“After slamming (the seniors) in the face and saying you didn’t want to want to work with them, how many of those people you think are going to vote for a $63 million referendum for the schools?” asked Vos.
“Everyone on the council wants to see the seniors thrive,” said Hefty. “And that’s the focus.”