SHIRLEY -- The Council on Aging budget-building process for fiscal 2014 started out with "three completely different scenarios," COA Director John Oelfke told the selectmen and Finance Committee at a joint board meeting Monday night.
The three-tired approach went from level-funded to level-services to "what we really want," he said. The result was a mid-level compromise, level services with some small expense increases.
To begin with, the senior center is open more now than it once was, and there's been an increase in the outreach worker's caseload. Currently, the part time position is paid for by a grant from the Friends of the COA, which raised funds and solicited donations for the purpose and pledged to cover the outreach worker's $9,248 salary for the first few years.
Now, four more hours are needed to get the job done, Oelfke said, bringing the outreach worker's salary to $12,148 a year. But there's no money to cover the increase, and he's hoping that the town will fund the additional $2,900 to make ends meet.
The same goes for the custodian, a senior tax work-off participant who works five hours a week at the Senior Center. "It's not a lot," but program funding for the position will be gone in July, Oelfke said. The idea now is to hire a contract worker to clean the building, with no benefits and the town picking up the estimated $4,700 yearly tab.
"Those are the core differences" since last year, Oelfke said.
Refocusing on highlights of the budget request, Oelfke said the COA is asking the town to approve and fund the following items: 28 hours a week for the director for a full year, as Town Meeting already approved, four added hours for the outreach worker and a six-hour per week custodian.
Oelfke provided several handouts to make his case. One sheet listed items on the outreach worker's to-do list, including case management and advocacy, client and family support, correspondence, in-home, on-site and telephone consultations and follow ups, rest home and rehab consultations, coordinating medical equipment delivery and pickup and general information services.
On another sheet, a graph showed the increase in outreach clients over time.
Another sheet spelled out how Oelfke earns his $27,695 annual salary. During his 28 hours a week, he operates the senior center, the hours for which are determined by his time on the job; he designs, develops and implements programs, researches and applies for grants, seeks donations and recruits and trains volunteers.
The senior center hosts a variety of programs and events now versus only a couple that were available a few years ago, when the COA set up a drop-in center in the main meeting room of the town offices.
Offering anecdotal evidence, Selectman Kendra Dumont said the number of people who show up now for manicures she gives to seniors as a volunteer on Tuesday mornings has increased dramatically. "They never could have fit into this room," she said, indicating the drop-in center's former home, where she provided the same service before the new Senior Center opened in a beautifully renovated old school house on Parker Road.
Programs held at the Senior Center today include yoga and other fitness programs, bridge and other games, line dancing, computer classes, Wii bowling, painting, and speakers, to name a few.
"You can see we've grown," Oelfke said.
The selectmen had some questions. For example, Chairman David Swain asked how many seniors regularly visit the center to participate in programs there. "About 365 people have "come to something" in the last nine months, Oelfke said, some for one activity, some for more than one, and/or to see the outreach worker. Comparatively, the number was about 300 last year," he said.
On average, 15 to 20 people come to the Senior Center every day, with some days busier than others, depending on the activity or event going on. In general, Oelfke estimated a 10 to 20 percent uptick over last year, "but it's hard to measure," he said.
"So, more people use the facility now, Swain mused. "That's key."
Andy Deveau agreed. "Most days, the building is well used,' he concluded, drawing on his own observations.
Oelfke said it's also important to reiterate than none of the Senior Center programs are taxpayer funded, but are paid for by grants or donations, fees or a combination of both.
One volunteer, grant-funded program picks up where another leaves off. Angels on Wheels provides ferry service to medical appointments in places outside the MART van service area, such as Nashua, N.H. and Emerson Hospital in Concord. Volunteers do the driving, in their own vehicles. "We pay the mileage with the grant," Oelfke explained.
He also noted a survey of other towns that shows Shirley's senior center operates below the benchmark, averaging $18,000 per year versus the other towns' $32,500 average spending, including higher salaries. "We try to be fiscally responsible," he said. "But we serve an expanding senior population, and we're running into a crunch."
"We couldn't do this without volunteers," Oelfke continued. "But we also need your support."
Asked what would happen if the director's hours were cut from 28 to 19 per week, Oelfke described a downward cycle. "We'd start to dismantle things, start losing grants, " which he spends a good deal of time pursuing, he said. "Those would go first."
He's been relatively successful in getting grants so far, Oelfke said, citing a recent "big grant" for $6,500 to be used for a medical fair in the fall.
As the presentation wrapped up, COA board member Frank Esielionis put in a plug for the outreach worker's added hours, as proposed. "Things go on outside the (Senior Center) building, too, he said. For example, the outreach worker provides "confidential eyes and ears" for the Community Assistance Collaborative. She can identify people in town in need of food or fuel assistance, he said, which the CAC provides through use of the selectman-controlled Grace Winslow Trust Fund and under the auspices of the Shirley Charitable Foundation.