Senior Center’s non-city members are being charged with new, annual fee. Here’s how that’s “equitable” for all members

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Without context, hearing that non-city residents are expected to pay an annual fee to participate in activities at the Grace Martin Harwell Senior Center may seem unfair. However, Washington City Manager Jonathan Russell is providing context that sheds light on a more complex issue. 

Non-city residents who are members of the senior center are now expected to pay an annual fee that will go toward the cost of activities at the center as well as operational costs. The fee varies depending on how it is paid. Members can pay a lump sum of $175 per year. They have the option to pay $50 quarterly which amounts to $200 per year or $20 monthly which amounts to $240 per year, Russell explained. At $175, the senior center’s monthly cost is $14.58 per month. 

Membership at Grace Martin Harwell Senior Center is exclusive to adults 55 years or older. The center has an estimated 2,200 members each year. Its operational costs are approximately $350,000. 

These activities include multiple exercise programs, sports, table top games, computer classes, painting classes, music performances from the Beaufort County Traditional Music Association and the support of several clubs and groups. The senior center hosts weekly and special events. It is primarily open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is located at 310 W. Main St. 

The City of Washington implemented the new fee because of a 20% inflation rate, increased cost of labor and increased cost of materials, Russell shared. 

“We’ve seen an increase across the board from an operational standpoint, and we’re trying to find some ways to temper that a little from the amount we’re subsidizing,” he said.  

Prior to the fiscal year 2025 budget, the City of Washington did not charge non-city residents a fee; however, it was added to make payments between city and non-city residents “equitable” he said. 

“We want to continue to provide the service. We want to make sure we’re doing it in an equitable way,” Russell said. “Right now, the citizens of Washington are subsidizing it for everyone else in the county.”  

City residents help pay for operational costs at the senior center through property and sales taxes. The senior center receives a portion of property tax revenue because it exists under the Parks and Recreation Department which is funded by property taxes. 

 For those who argue non-city residents should not be charged, because they bring in sales tax revenue by shopping and dining in Washington before or after they visit the senior center, Russell shared that in Beaufort County, sales tax is actually distributed by population or per capita. 

According to Davie County Government, “the tax levy collected by the counties is then sent to the State, where calculations determine how the sales tax revenues should be distributed back to counties and their municipalities. While counties are mandated to share the revenue from local sales taxes with its incorporated municipalities, North Carolina law authorizes local Boards of Commissioners to decide how the shared revenue is distributed, either based on a per capita or ad valorem formula.” 

How this looks day-to-day is an Aurora resident shopping and dining in Washington; however, the Town of Aurora would benefit from the sales tax revenue of that trip. 

“We want sales to take place in Beaufort County, but it doesn’t matter where (in Beaufort County) you spend it,” Russell said.  

The senior center receives $20,000 annually from Beaufort County Government to support programs attended by non-city residents. 

The City of Washington charges city and non-city residents different fees for youth leagues and use of the George H. and Laura E. Brown Library. 

The youth league fee also increased in the fiscal year 2025 city budget from $30 for non-city residents to $70 while the fee for city residents remained the same at $25. 

At the George H. and Laura E. Library, library cards are free for city residents, $15 per adult per year and $5 per child per year. Out of county residents pay $25 per library card.