Senior Advisory Committee sets priorities, outlines next budget

Fri, 12/13/2019 - 9:00am
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Caregivers for the island’s elderly, and housing for both seniors and caregivers. Transportation, both on and off the island. A larger budget for more professional staff.

The town’s Senior Advisory Committee has consistently identified and named these and other priorities to meet the needs of Block Island’s elder population in their meetings over the years.

At their Nov. 19 meeting, the committee members laid out a vision for the future as input to the town’s Charter Review Commission, and began to plan its budget request to the town for the next fiscal year based on that vision.

Committee Co-Chair Sandra Kelly read a list of priorities taken from the narrative they had previously developed.

Kelly began: “Looking ahead as the needs of the senior population continue to increase, SAC anticipates the necessity for developing the following resources:

More town financial support and funding.

Access to more qualified caregivers.

Housing for seniors and caregivers.

An adult care residence.

A fully sustained transportation program.

A respite program for caregivers and their family members.

A fully sustained educational program.

A fully sustained social program.

Continued collaboration with local agencies, Medical Center, churches, and NAMI Block Island.

A full-time senior/human services agency.

“I think we’ve come to the point,” said Kelly, “where you do need some sort of a group agency” staffed by “experts.” She noted “we already have” two existing positions funded by the town’s annual budget: Human Services Coordinator Maryann Seebeck and Senior Coordinator Gloria Redlich.

“We definitely need a social worker, without a doubt,” Kelly continued, “which I think probably would go with that agency.” She also suggested working with the town Recreation Department to develop social programs.

“It’s a pretty long list,” Kelly said. But it’s what we need, other members replied.

“It shows the need, and that’s what has to go into this charter revision,” Kelly responded.

The formal motion to accept the Senior Advisory Committee’s submission to the Comprehensive Plan and Charter Review Commission was unanimously approved

From a list to a budget

The committee then discussed how to translate its priority list into a budget request for the fiscal year beginning in July 2020. The SAC’s current annual budget totals $23,100, including the part-time Senior Coordinator’s wages.

New expenditures mentioned would include a part-time social worker specifically for the island’s senior population, perhaps through an arrangement with Tri-County Community Action; travel off-island for training by social service agencies with their on-island peers, including overnight lodging; making more use of the Community Center for programs; and sustained funding for transportation, among others. No cost estimates were given; Kelly asked the members to research and flesh out their ideas before the next monthly meeting.

Regarding senior transportation, Kelly said she and Redlich had attended a Town Council work session in November that included “Discussion of Jitney/Senior Transit System for Block Island” on the agenda. At that meeting, Town Manager Ed Roberge described a concept developed by the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) for an on-island “jitney” using small vans – not large buses – connecting Old Harbor, New Harbor and the state airport. Because the concept’s route would run only in the summers, RIPTA would not be required to provide door-to-door paratransit service to the elderly and disabled living along the island jitney route as it does for its mainland bus routes, Roberge explained at the time.

Despite the wording of the agenda item, there was no other specific mention of elderly or disabled transportation between the council, Roberge and the audience in the lengthy discussion at the work session.

RIPTA’s jitney proposal did not impress Kelly. “They should be providing service to our citizens,” she told the SAC members. She said she thought the Committee’s Senior Ride Service, subsidizing island taxicabs for rides by seniors, people with special needs, and their caregivers, was a better model for the island, and much less costly. Members suggested the SRS would cost $10,000 to $12,000 per year. Roberge had cited RIPTA’s cost estimate for the summer jitney, $140,000 per year.

The SAC will continue preliminary budget discussions at its next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at 9:30 a.m. at Town Hall.