After a shocking drop in membership, the Orion Township Senior Center will no longer charge a membership fee effective Jan. 1.
The township board of trustees made the decision at its Dec. 3 meeting after hearing a report from the senior center’s advisory council. The vote was unanimous.
Until the senior center moved to the new Orion Center building, there was no charge for membership. According to the report, in 2011 there were 1,576 members. In 2012, the number dropped to 399 when the fee became $20 per person per year ($35 per couple).
“We have in fact collapsed the Orion senior community in both resident and nonresident numbers,” said advisory committee member George Sinnott. “You might think of the $20 as being peanuts, but to some of these members it’s not. … Personally I don’t think it’s the amount of the fee, it’s the perception.”
Sinnott said the drop in membership has affected all programs, those that are free or low cost and those that have a higher cost, such as travel. Fourteen of 21 scheduled trips were cancelled this year due to lack of participation. Low cost and free events, such as card clubs, have moved to sites where participants don’t have to pay membership.
“We have definitely had a substantial reduction in participation of the program,” said Lisa Sokol, the township’s community programs director. “As we talk to seniors in outlying communities that have participated in the past, they’re citing the membership fees, particularly the out-of-township residents that are coming to use the center. … We’ve also seen a significant drop in our own community.
“I think there are many reasons for that. We said we were going to be in there eight months ago, and there were reasons we didn’t get into the building.” The exercise room just opened Dec. 4. It will still have a user fee of $5 per month.
The Orion Center was envisioned as a combination senior center and community center that would be self-supporting through rentals of meeting rooms and program fees.
“This facility has many challenges, challenges to keep it open,” said trustee John Steimel. “There’s a lot of cost in running a facility like that. There’s maintenance, there’s a lot of wants. We may have to get creative in how we do that.”
Sokol said the price of trips went up because the cost of staff and marketing was figured into the price, not just because seniors had to pay a membership fee.
“There are communities that do charge membership fees and there are those that don’t,” she said. “This township has always had a very high commitment to providing senior programming in our community. It’s a value we have embraced. … I feel we have a hurdle we have to get over and beyond, and part of that is the membership fee.”
Sinnott said the advisory committee will now begin the task of rebuilding membership.
“It’s not going to occur overnight,” he said. “It’s going to be a building process because we have some attitudes that we’ve got to fix.”