2008-09-24 / Front Page

Seniors Asked To Share Annual Center Costs

Area Agency On Aging Executive Director Alan Smith meets with McConnellsburg senior citizens
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz STAFF WRITER

A request to share the expenses associated with the ongoing operation of local senior centers was presented to senior citizens in Mc- Connellsburg Tuesday afternoon during a special meeting with Area Agency on Aging Executive Director Alan Smith.

Smith informed the 20 plus individuals on hand that most human services agencies received a minimal 1 percent increase in state funding for the 2008-09 fiscal year. However, the tri-county Area Agency on Aging spanning Fulton, Bedford and Huntingdon counties was not one of those organizations to receive an increase in its annual allotment.

In fact, according to an announcement by the Department of Revenue relayed to local seniors by Smith, the lottery system experienced record-high sales with the surplus finding its way into medical assistance for individuals in nursing homes. With no extra state monies in store for the agency, Smith stated, steps must be taken to increase revenue and avoid deficit spending. Programs overseen by the agency include the home-delivered meals, the CART, in-home care, guardianship and, of course, the popular senior citizen centers where attendees enjoy both fellowship and a meal.

As means of generating revenue, the agency is currently working to increase the fare or copay for individuals utilizing the CART from $1 to $1.50 per trip, thereby bringing in an estimated $40,000 in funds. During the prior fiscal year, the CART recorded a total of 105,000 trips.

In addition, the elimination of special holiday meals at Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter is slated to save $11,000, while the "suggested" donation for eating a meal at a senior center has jumped from $1.50 to $2. The actual cost to the agency to provide a meal at the center through Pittsburgh Companies North (PCN) is $3.03.

PCN had recently agreed to a three-month contract extension, thereby holding the agency's spending line on meals. However, the company is reportedly expecting to negotiate a price increase effective October 1. "When combined with eliminating holiday meals this could affect their ability to maintain the agreement and to remain in business. A similar contract issue exists with Clear- Care Nursing Service," said Smith.

Smith added the sharing of utilities with senior centers and various cost-saving initiatives could result in $13,200 for the agency. Meanwhile, maintaining the current waiting list for personal care would tally savings in the amount of $120,000. Other ways of generating money are reducing the daily operation hours at the centers and decreasing the number of days of operation from five to four. In turn, though, those cost-cutting measures affect center managers, center employees and drivers.

Already enacted and followed in many other counties, Smith further noted the notion of cost-sharing could be enacted at the Mc- Connellsburg, Hustontown and Warfordsburg centers. "I'm appealing to you as to what type of donation or cost-sharing your organization can provide, said Smith, who added other centers within the tri-county agency host potpie dinners, hoagie sales, morning breakfast as well as make crafts, baked goods and even peanut butter eggs for sale. These events have netted between $10,000 and $25,000. Smith then reminded those in attendance to not underestimate their collective power.

Jane Koehler, a local member of the Citizens Advisory Council, noted several of the women in attendance provided homemade cookies to the Fulton County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism as well as cleaned strawberries for the annual Strawberry Festival. Nothing was received in exchange for their services.

Concerns do exist across the region where there are only small groups of active helpers for the fundraising activities mentioned by Smith. Koehler mentioned the McConnellsburg group does have a small group of people who work and donate their time to existing activities.

"I often think that we, as seniors, do not appreciate what we have here at the center," Koehler said. "We catch a ride on the CART, have a meal and then return to our homes. We don't have any worries. We have it great!"

While the McConnellsburg seniors mull over Smith's cost-sharing proposal to aid in offsetting the center's operational costs, which tallies almost $11,000 annually, Smith is continuing his trek through Fulton, Huntingdon and Bedford counties to speak with other seniors on the agency's ongoing financial woes. Smith's next stop locally will be at the Warfordsburg Senior Center on Friday, October 3.

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