COLUMBIA - Paquin Tower residents gathered outside the Daniel Boone City Building on Friday afternoon in a rally against the proposal to cut city funding to their recreation program.
Holding signs and handing out pamphlets, the Paquin residents gathered hoping to alert the community to the importance of the program and why they feel it should be saved.
"This is what we needed," said Chuck Dudley, a resident and an organizer of the campaign to save the program at Paquin Tower. "We could have done it earlier, but we chose this timing right before the City Council meeting."
But while shaking hands with Ann Doherty, a Paquin resident handing out pamphlets, Mayor Darwin Hindman told her that in a work session Thursday night, the City Council decided to save the program.
"Oh! Oh, good," was all she could say.
Doherty has been a resident at Paquin Tower for almost seven years.
"I think it's good," Doherty said, shocked after hearing the news. "I think it's great. I think it's great."
The council decided to designate $61,000 to the Paquin Tower program, which is normally run with $88,000. The decision is not final since it was only discussed in a work session, but Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said the work session made it clear the program probably would not be cut, just scaled back. No specific cuts have been determined, but Skala said the council will discuss that at a future work session.
"It would be better than nothing; that's for sure," Paquin Tower resident Richard Craghead said.
But another Paquin resident, Orene Henderson, said she was worried about cuts to staff.
"One person can't run that program," Henderson said. "We need at least half of the people" working there now.
Sitting in wheelchairs in the shade of the Boone Building, Craghead and Henderson discussed just how workable the new budget would be. Craghead said he thinks residents would be willing to pitch in.
"We're not qualified to, baby," Henderson said.
But Craghead said even with a scaled-back staff, the Paquin program could still work.
"We can answer a telephone," Craghead said. "It doesn't mean that's what we want, but we'll take it. We'll make it work."
The residents also worry about the possibility of losing the transportation the program provided.
"From what I understand, what will go is the transportation side and two part-time employees, and that's not good," Dudley said.
Dudley points out that some people with developmental or physical disabilities can't ride the city buses.
Doherty worries residents would have trouble getting their groceries.
"Some of us have to buy (groceries) for a whole month, and you can't buy that," she said. "You can only take three bags on the bus."
While Dudley is happy the program will not be eliminated entirely, he still worries how well the program would run with budget cuts.
"I think we need the whole budget," Dudley said. "We're appreciative for what we get. Don't get us wrong; we're very appreciative. But to get rid of skilled staff... they're needed. They are a necessity. No matter what the City Council thinks, they're needed."
But Skala said the program will still be able to function at an adequate level.
"I would welcome some other creative contributions to this; I think they are going to be necessary in the future," Skala said. "But at this point I feel very comfortable that we can preserve this program to the satisfaction of the folks who live there."
The City Council will discuss the fiscal 2009 budget at its Tuesday meeting, including the funding for the Paquin Tower recreation program.