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Town of Bayfield, seniors spar over use of Pine River Senior Center

Residents say the facility has not been operated properly since opening in 2021
Members of the Pine River Seniors say the town is not living up to its responsibilities of operating the center in Bayfield under an intergovernmental agreement between the county and the town from 2007. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Who will run the Pine River Senior Center – and how it will be operated – are at the heart of a controversy in Bayfield.

The center opened in 2007 near downtown Bayfield. The town of Bayfield and La Plata County each donated $250,000 for construction, along with a $1 million grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, as well as several gifts from local residents and businesses.

Members of the Pine River Seniors say the town is not living up to its responsibilities of operating the center under an intergovernmental agreement between the county and the town from 2007.

“The town shall accept full responsibility for performing all other operations at the Bayfield Senior Center including the provision of adequate funding, adequate staffing, the administration of programs and activities and maintenance,” the IGA says.

Since the center reopened in 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not been operated properly, members of the Pine River Seniors, the group that oversees the center, said at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Bayfield Town Board. A longtime town employee who operated the center was laid off and replaced by contract employees from staffing agencies.

They also complained that they have to pay the same $100 deposit to use the building that an outside renter has to pay, and that they do not have a key to enter the building and lock it when they leave.

The center is open three days a week for seniors to use, with meals provided twice a week by La Plata County Senior Services.

The building needs safety upgrades, including to the commercial kitchen in the space, said Katie Sickles, town manager for Bayfield.

The county asked the town to take over the retail food license for the building from the county, and Sickles told town trustees she wanted to see changes to the IGA before the town agreed to that.

Some town trustees expressed frustration that the town has to provide some services to seniors, whereas in Durango, senior center operations are run entirely by the county.

“The county should up the ante and pay for our senior center as well,” said Trustee Brenna Morlan.

Trustee Lori Zazarro agreed, noting that the center serves both residents of Bayfield and residents of the county.

“We have asked the county to take over operation of the senior center,” said Phyllis Ludwig, a representative of the Pine River Seniors.

That might work from the town’s point of view, as well.

“There should be more programming from the county there for you,” Mayor Ashleigh Tarkington told the half dozen senior citizens attending Tuesday’s meeting. “We really want to sit down with the county – we’re not seeing eye-to-eye on our needs.”

The Town Board deferred any action about the center operation until June 13, when the board has a scheduled meeting with La Plata County commissioners.

In other action, the board approved a resolution and $30,000 in funding for a traffic study for an application to the Colorado Department of Transportation for a pedestrian crossing across U.S. Highway 160.

“It’s used a lot,” Trustee Kristin Dallison said of the crossing that pedestrians make across the highway, frequently dodging cars along the way.

There might be federal funding to help pay for the project, said Nicole Killian, the town’s community development director.

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