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Senior Center in fiscal trouble

By Staff, 08/22/17 10:27 AM

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PRESCOTT – Ruth Langston, director of the Area Agency on Aging (AAA), told the Prescott City Council, at its August meeting Monday night, the Hamilton-Blakely Senior Adult Center is in financial trouble.

Langston, who took over the position in 2010, said there have been federal and state budget cuts annually because of a declining 60 and over age group population at the center, not only in Prescott, but the southern part of the state. The money, she told the panel, is going to Northwest Arkansas where the population of older citizens is growing.

Funding, she said, is based on demographics, including age, primarily those 60 and older, race and income. In the Southwest part of the state, these figures are dropping as fewer senior citizens go to senior centers. The funding formula, she added, also includes the number of people 60 and older who use the facilities at senior centers.

At this time, Langston told the council, the AAA is getting $472,000 less than it did in 2010, and has lost more than $2 million in revenue. The Southwest Arkansas Development Council (SWADC) asked the AAA to take senior centers over. It did and worked to subcontract services for the seniors who use the centers. However, special waivers are required because, under state and federal law, not just anyone, or group, can operate a senior center.

Another problem, she said, is finding subcontractors when the AAA is having trouble making ends meet. This situation was a hot topic in the Arkansas Legislature last year, she continued, and the AAA did get some allocations, but not enough. Langston said the state put $1 million in its category B funding program, which means the money may or may not become available.

“The problem is money. Money equals services,” she said, adding the SWADC went out of business and there are eight AAA regions in the state.

Currently, the Hamilton-Blakely Center is open three days a week, Monday-Wednesday from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Some centers are open four days a week, she said.

These centers, she said, are important as they provide a place for senior citizens to go, socialize and eat at least one balanced meal. Langston pointed out the center is open to everyone and lunch, for those under 60, can be bought for $5, while those 60 and over eat free, but can make a donation if they so desire. All meals must meet federal dietary guidelines, she added.

The staff at the center has been cut to 29 hours a week. Any more, she said, and benefits would have to be paid, benefits the AAA can’t afford. Langston said the decision to open Monday-Wednesday was made so employees could find a second part-time job if they needed to. Currently the center feeds 25-30 people a day, and needs to be feeding at least 50 per day, as the agency gets to bill the government based on the number of clients being served. She pointed out by law the center can’t refuse to feed anyone 60 or over.

This region, she said, has lost 50 percent of its funding. “A few more years like this and we could cease to exist. We’re doing what we can to stay afloat.” The center is paid for and the county pays the insurance on the facility. She said the center pays for maintenance, but could use help keeping its vehicles operational. Prescott Mayor Terry Oliver said he’d talked to the city’s shop foreman and was told it wouldn’t be a problem to help with vehicle maintenance for the center.

In the past, Langston said, the legislature used to have what was termed general improvement funds (GIF), which was money representatives and senators could use in their districts for different purposes. However, these funds have dried up and no longer exist.

Another problem for the center, she said, is the high utility bills, which average about $1,000 a month. An energy audit was done at the center, Langston continued, and it two areas were found in the ceiling that need more insulation, which could help reduce the bills.

One center, she said, has periodic fundraisers to help stay afloat. This could be done locally as well. Donations, she added, are always welcome. “I’m open to suggestions.”

Langston said she’s looking at different food providers to help reduce costs, but food is one of the least costly expenses for the center. She also wants to re-open the Rosston route and bring people from the south part of the county to the center.

When asked what the center needed, Langston said, “Everything. We need everything, more people, more money.”

 

 

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