The staff and board of the Kennett Life Center - formerly the Kennett Area Senior Center - assured their members last week that finances will be more securely watched and that food prices could come down soon.

In a "town meeting" that attracted about 70 members on June 28, Director Anita O'Connor attempted to quell fears that the center was in deep financial trouble after a fiscal year that was about to end with a budget shortfall of about $22,000. In recent months, the price of the senior center lunch more than tripled, and three staff members resigned without being replaced.

O'Connor cited "financial difficulties" that came to light in December 2005 about six months after the resignation of former director Kathy Lyons.

When a member asked how the shortfall happened, O'Connor said there had been some "unusual spending practices" until this year, but now the board has a tighter control on exactly how the money is spent. She added that she can now only spend money up to a certain level without authorization, but she did not say what that level was. "I feel protected because [the board is] controlling larger amounts of money," she said.

With the help of visual aids, she reviewed the budget numbers for fiscal year 2004-05, year-to-date 2006 and projected July 2006-through-June 2007.

Her Power Point presentation showed that the center ended fiscal 2005 with a net income of $49,828. O'Connor noted, however, that a $100,000 bequest and a $60,000 contribution by the Rotary Club masked what would actually have been a shortfall without those two windfalls.

The shortfall as of April 30, 2006, was recorded at $72,046. But with the addition of $49,885 from investment income, the actual shortfall was actually $22,161.

Next year's projected numbers show a net operating income shortfall of $32,743 with an investment income yield of $33,000. The bottom line then comes out to $257 in the black.

Responding to a question about the newly opened Book Shoppe, she said the rent is $24,524 a year, but the income it generates was $40,000 this year and projected to be $50,000 next year.

O'Connor cited increases in the costs of utilities, food and supplies as some of the reasons for higher expenses. But, she said, as the center starts out on the new fiscal year, "Staff morale is high," and more attention is being made to the costs of specific events so that the fees would cover the expenses.

The three staff positions that were not replaced will save money on staff salaries, she said. She also explained that a county grant for food (lunches) was given to the Kennett Life Center this year because the center had not served enough people the preceding year. In an attempt to get that funding returned, O'Connor passed around a petition to the members to sign for submission to the county requesting a reinstatement of the funds. If that occurs, she said, lunch prices could come down.

Late in the meeting, one member asked for a response to the renaming of the center from The Kennett Area Senior Center to The Life Center. All the people in the room stood up in apparent affirmation of their desire to revert to the former name.

O'Connor said she was working on it with the board.

The meeting ended with an announced fund-raising project and a plea to the members to reach into their pockets and make a pledge. "The board and staff are re-energized and ready to raise money to ease the financial pain. We need help to raise $10,000," O'Connor said.

To that end, Fund Development Committee Chairman Vince Ghione announced the annual mushroom dinner on the last Sunday in August would benefit the life center and would include the raffle prize of a signed, limited edition Andrew Wyeth print.

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