At last week’s regular meeting, LaPrairie city councilors turned attention back to the YMCA Active Living Center. At a previous council meeting, a measure to donate $650 to the Active Living Center failed with two councilors voting in the affirmative and two abstaining. One counselor was absent.
At the April 3 meeting, Jamie Mjolsness, coordinator of the Active Living Center, was on hand to offer her remarks. She characterized the center as a free, multi-generation space. She said while most programs were geared for seniors, people of all ages were welcome. The center is visited by people ranging from infants to grandparents on a daily basis. Mjolsness said the center sees about 168 people per day.
Mayor Lynn O’Brien asked if there were any fees collected at the center. “We don’t charge for any activities. We do put out a donation basket that helps provide our coffee and treats that we put out every day which is free for people if they can’t afford to pay,” Mjolsness responded.
O’Brien said she had visited to the Active Living Center as an observer and was amazed at the range in ages of the people utilizing the center. “To see these little children interacting with grandmas and grandparents… Who liked it more; I couldn’t tell,” said O’Brien. “I am fully supportive of what you do there and I would like to call for a revote on a donation in support of this.”
Councilor Amy Thurm questioned the use of LaPrairie’s budget for funding activities at the center. “Every dollar that we give you comes away from something else,” said Thurm. “I did the math, I looked up the data. We have approximately 50 people in the city of LaPrairie who would use this.”
Thurm said she had gone door to door in the city and found that everyone she spoke with felt that no funding for the center should come from LaPrairie’s budget. Referencing a $25,000 donation from the city of Grand Rapids, she added, “I’m having trouble seeing where that huge amount of money isn’t enough to cover this program. The Active Living Center is the only program that doesn’t charge.”
Mjolsness responded saying, “We have programs like the youth center that doesn’t charge anything. We are there for people in the community that can’t afford these things as well.” Mjolsness said the center also serves homeless people.
Thurm said that for the record she did not vote against the measure at the March 6 meeting, and indicated that $650 was too much money for the city to donate to the center. “I feel like a $400 donation coming out of the pockets of people whose property taxes went up again this year is plenty.”
Turning to Mjolsness, Thurm asked, “Do you not agree with that amount?”
Mjolsness responded, “We appreciate anything that we get.”
Quoting from a letter written by City Attorney John Licke, Thurm said, “Policy recommendation is do not donate. There is inherent discrimination in other persons and groups.”
Thurm said that one of the activities listed at the Active Living Center is Bible study. “That is like the height of potential discrimination lawsuits so I really don’t think this is the way to go,” said Thurm.
Councilor Vic Moen said that he disagreed with Thurm whole-heartedly. While acknowledging City Attorney John Licke’s opinion, Moen said that information from the Minnesota League of Cities clearly indicated that a donation to the center would be a permitted expenditure. Councilor Margie Ritter cited information from the state auditor’s office that supported Moen’s position adding, “If we were to build our own community center, it wouldn’t be $600 per year; it might be $60,000.”
Thurm again questioned the amount of the donation. Ritter asked Thurm if she wanted to make the motion for a $400 donation. “Yes,” said Thurm. Ritter seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.
In other business, the council:
• Voted to refund fees associated with an unused part of a liquor license at RC’s.
• Set April 20 as the date for Board of Appeal and Equalization.
• Approved the appointments of Steve Feyma to the Park and Recreation committee and Katie Nelson to the GreenStep committee.
• Approved OSHA training for the city’s maintenance worker.