County plans rent raises for Commons, consolidation with Child Care Center

NEW CASTLE – As a economy measure, the Craig County Board of Supervisors is proposing to raise residents’ rents at the New Castle Commons – eventually, by more than $100 a month – in part, to help keep the Craig County Child Care Center afloat.

The two entities in the former New Castle High School building in downtown New Castle would also be consolidated into a single entity, as far as financial support, management and operations are concerned.

The New Castle Commons senior citizen apartment and the Craig County Child Care Center share the building that used to be New Castle High School. Under proposals before the board of supervisors, the two would be under one management to save money. Photo by Mike Stater
The New Castle Commons senior citizen apartment and the Craig County Child Care Center share the building that used to be New Castle High School. Under proposals before the board of supervisors, the two would be under one management to save money. Photo by Mike Stater
The changes are necessary, supervisors say, because the Craig County Day Care lost financial support from the state in 2012 that put that operation “in an unsustainable position,” according to the draft resolution amending the county’s fiscal year budget for 2013-14.

Also as part of the cost-cutting measures, the resident manager’s job for the apartments would be eliminated. Gwen Johnson – who writes for The New Castle Record – is currently the resident manager. Her job at the Commons will end Aug. 31. Johnson has found a new place to live, she said, and a part-time job at a local business.

Craig County Administrator Richard Flora is on vacation in Alaska and not available for an interview. He is scheduled to meet with the apartment residents at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, July 16, to explain details and answer questions.

The changes are necessary, according to the proposed memorandum of understanding between the board of supervisors and the Craig County Youth and Community Services Board of Directors that oversees the child care center and will oversee the Commons.

Supervisors are due to vote on two resolutions concerning the changes at their Aug. 1 meeting. The first rent increases would go into effect Sept. 1.

There are 17 residents of the studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments in the former New Castle High School building where the child care center is also located.

Martha Murphy, a member of the board of supervisors who represents the Simmonsville District, says she believes the changes could help both the child care center and the senior citizen residents.

“The board of supervisors feels very responsible for the tenants of both parts of the building,” said Murphy. “Every department of the county is feeling the pinch. I think this is looking at the big picture of a very important facility in our community. This arrangement allows us to upgrade the facility which hasn’t been done in so long,” she said, adding, “I think it’s important that it receives our attention and our support, to increase programs for both elderly and the child care center. “We’d like both groups to really get what they need.”

She said she had not received any calls from residents of the Commons. “I’m sure if they have any concerns, Richard Flora will bring those back to the board.”

Murphy continued, “This has been in the works for probably two years. We’ve spent a lot of time looking at all the county-owned buildings. This is really part of a much larger conversation about how do we get all of our buildings the best they can be, in times of decreasing budgets.”

Murphy said the way she understands it, the Commons budget would pay for a part-time manager who would have experience in working with the geriatric population and programs.

The current position of the director of the child care center would remain as it is, Murphy said, and would have no responsibilities for the Commons.

According to the documents distributed last week to senior citizens who live in the low and moderate-income apartments owned by the county, rents have not been raised since 1991 when the Commons opened. Rent includes water and sewer and for an additional $10 a month, residents can get cable television.

Proposed rent increases would range from initial adjustment in September of $30 for a studio apartment, making rent $258; $35 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, for a total of $302; and $45 a month for a two-bedroom apartment, making total rent $358. Rents would go up again in 2014 and 2015.

Becky Harden is one of the residents who is upset about the changes, particularly the rent increases.

“I feel that they’re doing us wrong. Most of us in here are on a fixed income,” Harden said. “My husband, Bobby, is on dialysis, and I’m on the verge of having to go. We just live from paycheck to paycheck. Why should they take money from our account and help the child care? Why don’t they up the cost of child care for each child?”

The Hardens have lived at the Commons for six years, she said, in a two-bedroom apartment. “I’ve thought about moving, but it would be over there in Roanoke.” Her husband grew us in Craig and she grew up in Botetourt. Their son lives in Salem, she said.

Toni Brookman, who has lived in the apartments for 10 years, is another of the residents upset by the proposed changes.
She’s particularly concerned the lack of a full-time, resident manager would mean the apartment complex wouldn’t be taken care of, and conditions would revert to the way it was before Johnson became the manager.

“The apartment was really messy and dirty before I moved in. I had to get my children to help me clean it up. After Gwen Johnson took over as resident manager, she has kept the apartments cleaned up and made sure an apartment was cleaned before a new resident moved in.”

She continued, “Before Gwen, when I wanted to get something fixed
I had to call my brother to come and get things done. I’m afraid it will get that way again. I am very unhappy.”

Brookman said she was also upset the rents are going up, but more distressed that residents won’t have someone reliable to call on to see things get fixed.

“The biggest thing is it’s going to be hard to get things done when things break down.” She added that Johnson always kept the apartments cleaned and attractive, and made sure someone from the county took care of maintenance when needed.

“The place was run down real bad before Gwen,” Brookman said, of the two years before Johnson became the manager. “She kept the apartments full and had a waiting list.”

Brookman said she is considering moving, probably to New Castle Manor, which has a waiting list, and apartments there are currently being renovated. The Manor also has subsidized rents but is privately owned and operated. She doesn’t want to leave Craig County because two of her three daughters live there.

Under responsibilities spelled out in the Memorandum of Understanding, the Youth and Community Services Board would provide shared personnel for management services, acting through the CCCCC, and would assume management of the Commons.

The board of supervisors would provide the cost of custodial services for both the child care center and the Commons, maintain both, and 50 percent of the cost of a CCCCC staff person assigned to the Commons.

For more details, see future articles in The New Castle Record as discussions continue.

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