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Senior center counting on fundraiser

A few months into the trial merger of the Palm Harbor Senior Activity Center and the Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation Department, fundraising remains as important as ever for the senior center.

The center needs a $100,000 parking lot expansion, $40,000 to $50,000 worth of additional storage space, and a $20,000 control unit for its air conditioner, said Irene Rausch, interim director of the Parks and Recreation Department.

Although the trial merger has cut some of the center's costs and may help it win more grants in the long run, it has not addressed the center's chronic shortage of money for capital improvements, Rausch said.

So fundraising goes on. Key to the effort are events such as Friday's annual Las Vegas Night, which turns the center into a casino. For $8, members of the center get admission, $1,000 in play money, some meal tickets and a chance to bid for prizes. The price for nonmembers is $10. Rausch hopes the casino will raise $2,000.

"Fundraisers take a lot of time and a lot of staff, and it's iffy: If it rains maybe nobody will come," Rausch said. "But we need the money."

Since October, when the trial merger began, the arrangement has put more pressure on the center to set aside money from its $300,000 budget for maintaining its facilities. Unless the center saves $10,700 for building maintenance this fiscal year, the merger will lapse next fiscal year.

At the same time, the merger agreement requires the center to consistently raise at least 90 percent of the money it needs to cover its expenses this fiscal year to make the merger permanent.

The largest single piece of the center's revenues _ 35 percent _ comes from renting its facilities and the center is looking for more bookings, Rausch said.

The merger has helped the center's bottom line by cutting the center's property and liability insurance by 74 percent, from $19,000 to $5,000. It has also allowed the center to use parks and recreation staff for routine building maintenance.

But the center also needs more grant money, Rausch said. Last year the center got one grant, $500 from the ExxonMobil Corp., she said.

"Most foundations want to support full-service recreation centers," she said. Under the trial merger, the senior center has become part of a full-service recreation center that could qualify for more grants.

But Rausch must first prove the center is ready to marry the Parks and Recreation Department, by meeting 90 percent of the center's budget for nine months of this fiscal year.

In November, the center met that goal, Rausch said. The center has not finished compiling its report for December, but Raush believes it's also positive.

"I think we're going to make our 90 percent," she said.