The Gathering Place, 715 Campus St., has submitted a request for funding as part of the 2020 general fund Milton city budget.
The request was made by the nonprofit’s executive director Dave Fisher during the City of Milton Common Council’s Oct. 15 meeting.
Citing rising utility costs, Fisher requested $15,000 from the city, which is $5,000 more than last year’s requested amount.
Ten thousand dollars was included for the organization within a draft 2020 budget, which was also presented on Oct. 15.
Council will consider and discuss requests made by both The Gathering Place and the Milton House museum over the next few weeks as part of the full budget process, as outlined by City Administrator Al Hulick. The city will adopt a 2020 budget in mid or late November, he said.
In a written application, Fisher said the majority of those served by the organization are age 60 and above, further noting its mission is to “support positive living for all ages.”
The organization supports the Milton community through services, and activities in which all ages can participate, Fisher wrote.
The Gathering Place facility sees some 75 visitors daily and that number does not reflect those who participate in evening and weekend events, programs or rentals, where several hundred visitors might be present, Fisher noted.
In comments made before council on Oct. 15, Fisher said The Gathering Place uses the city’s contribution to offset the facility’s operational costs.
“It’s pretty simple: the cost of utilities continue to grow by 8% annually,” Fisher said.
The projected utility bill for the facility in 2019 is $14,800.
“If increases are 8% for next year, it’s going to exceed the $15,000 that we’re asking,” Fisher said.
Fisher said utility costs at The Gathering Place include three components: electricity, heat and air conditioning.
Fisher said he believed council and the community understood the value of The Gathering Place to Milton.
“You folks know what The Gathering Place does. Your faces show up at several of our events … you come to what we’ve got going on. You can read the paper every week and see something special that’s going on at The Gathering Place,” he said.
The Gathering Place is open 251 days each year, he said.
“Whatever support you give us financially will go to a good cause and I assure you that we appreciate it very much,” he added.
Responding to questions, Fisher said that The Gathering Place generates in income about $50,000 annually from renting the venue for weddings and special occasions. Revenues from rentals had been increasing since 2015, he said.
Rentals are down in 2019, he said.
“We don’t have an explanation for it,” he said, citing similar experiences reported by Janesville-based Best Events Catering, which also reported fewer bookings this year, Fisher said.
“I know our bookings for 2020 are up, Fisher added.
Along with weddings, he said, The Gathering Place caters to showers, birthday parties, and celebrations of life.
“That’s a steady flow of revenue … but the weddings are really a draw; we get 150 folks in and they are renting the space for 8 hours. That’s how we generate money. Fortunately, we do fundraising and we are pretty successful at that, as a lot of us nonprofits are, but we’ll see at the end of the year; it’s going to be down a little bit.” He defined “a little bit” as less than $10,000.
“But that’s significant in our budget,” he said.
He described attendance at fundraisers, such as the annual fish boil, Clam Bash, Hot Dogs with Santa and Pumpkin Fest, as “really good.”
He said social media advertising has been a useful tool.
The Gathering Place has a membership of about 500, Fisher said. He described membership as “good” and “up.”
Said Fisher: “We are drawing folks from north Janesville, and Edgerton, we are drawing people that are beyond our boundaries of Milton. That speaks to our program. They are coming from Janesville because they like what we’re doing.”
Fisher said a meals program, organized through Rock County and federally funded by the Older Americans Act, is offered at The Gathering Place.
Through a contractual agreement with Rock County, The Gathering Place is a Senior Nutrition Dining Center, which serves well-balanced and nutritional meals to seniors.
“It’s on a donation basis. If you are 60-years-old or older, you can come and have a well-balanced, nutritious meal at The Gathering Place with no questions asked, and if you throw a few bucks in the jar, great, if you don’t, it’s not a big deal,” Fisher said.
On average, he said, the facility serves 15 meals daily to dine-in recipients. Another 28 to 30 meals each day are delivered to homebound elderly who also use the program. Meals are delivered Monday through Friday.
“So we’re serving close to 10,000 meals a year,” Fisher said, adding: “We survive on the backs of volunteers. The Gathering Place has 250 volunteers that do this 12,000 hours a year.
“The people who volunteer in this program feel so good about what they’re doing, I never have to worry about being short on volunteers.”
For many homebound seniors, he said, a visit from a volunteer delivering a meal might be their only social contact that day.
He described the program as “stable” and “needed.”