County ups rent on meals program
Gray Gourmet deserves better treatment, says hospital official
Mesa County might have financial problems, but squeezing more money out of St. Mary’s Hospital and the Gray Gourmet senior meal program is harming the relationship between the county and nonprofit agencies, the president of St. Mary’s Hospital said.
The county recently approved a lease that runs through the end of the month for the building housing the Gray Gourmet program. Hopes that another organization will move in and pay market rent are evaporating quickly, leading to the possibility that St. Mary’s will agree to a lease for the next six to eight months and possibly longer than that.
County officials, however, took a heavy-handed approach in discussions about the future of the Gray Gourmet program, St. Mary’s President Brian Davidson said.
Mesa County Commission Chairman Scott McInnis said discussions about the building at 551 Chipeta Ave., were those of a landlord and tenant, but had been cordial.
“It’s not a question of money. We can pay $48,000 a year in rent,” Davidson said Thursday. “But we have to stop demanding, not asking, more and more of nonprofit organizations trying to fill in gaps where local and regional governments are not able to fill in, and putting programs at risk to demand money from those who are already fulfilling a service that’s costing them money.”
McInnis said the relationship with St. Mary’s “has not been adverse. No one told anybody to get out. We wanted St. Mary’s to stay” with the Gray Gourmet program in the current location, but at market rates.
The county has a fiduciary responsibility to charge more than $25 a month for the building, McInnis said.
County officials are looking for every opportunity to decrease costs and increase revenues as they deal with a budget that was anticipated to eat into the county’s reserves.
Under the one-month lease for the Gray Gourmet building, St. Mary’s is paying $3,337. McInnis said an extension would likely call for a lease rate on the low side of the market.
The commission’s emphasis on getting more money for the Gray Gourmet building overlooks the important matter that the building and its industrial kitchen were constructed specifically for the meals-on-wheels program, Davidson said.
Davidson learned this spring that the county planned not to renew the Gray Gourmet building lease soon after he put on a Go Pro camera and accompanied a volunteer on a route delivering food to shut-ins.
“I was very excited about the program and about two hours later I received word we were getting notice of non-renewal for lease,” Davidson said.
It’s not a matter of just picking up and moving the operation, Davidson said. A new location would require a new industrial kitchen and have to accommodate parking and loading for each of the 18 vehicles used by volunteers to deliver some 450 meals daily.
While the county has title to the building and is within its rights to seek a new tenant, St. Mary’s Hospital also has invested in maintenance and staff for the program, Davidson said.
St. Mary’s interceded in 1989 when Gray Gourmet was struggling, he said.
“We took over in good faith and we’ve spent well over seven figures” on staff and maintenance, Davidson said.
“We have options, but it will take at least a year” to find a suitable new location, he said.
The county only began looking for a replacement tenant when Davidson said he would look into moving Gray Gourmet to St. Mary’s, McInnis said. That happened when McInnis said the county needed to charge more for the building, he said.
With apparent agreement that Gray Gourmet can remain in its current location with St. Mary’s paying more rent, McInnis said that as far as the county is concerned, “It’s resolved.”
Not quite, Davidson said.
“We have to change the paradigm so that when people step forward to do good things, you don’t send a letter” saying their lease won’t be renewed.
The county should respect the history of the program, said Amanda deBock, Gray Gourmet program manager, who oversees 250 volunteers and a paid kitchen staff that delivered more than 120,000 meals in its just-ended 2016-17 fiscal year.
“I feel like the county should be saying thank you” for the service to its residents, deBock said.