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Voters agree to fund CoA director job for half a year

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SHIRLEY — The Council on Aging (COA) requested $28,188 to hire a full-time director, but with a tight budget restricting town spending, the council agreed to take half.

Selectmen Chairman Leonardo “Chip” Guercio, at the fifth Annual Town Meeting (ATM) session on Tuesday night, proffered an amended figure of $14,094 to fund the position for half of fiscal year 2009. “Let’s get someone in, then we’ll see about the other half of the year,” he suggested.

Norman Albert, a former selectman, said he’s grateful that a move to establish a senior program in town is underway. His wife, Jan, started one years ago and kept it going for four years, he said. She traded up the town’s old bus for a new one and held exercises classes that got so popular the group had to find a bigger place to meet, Albert said.

Martha Campbell, director of the Groton Senior Center, gave a brief presentation, spotlighting the job the Council on Aging wants to create. She noted the council’s purpose and cited accomplishments over its four-month lifespan.

“Now, we need a director,” she said.

Outreach, referrals, advice, programs and a professional helping hand are some of the assets a state-trained director would bring to the town and its seniors, Campbell said.

What does one do, she asked, when an ill, elderly parent comes home? How do you find out what to do next? Where do you turn? Without someone to help coordinate in-home care and other services, the alternative may be a nursing home. And some day, that question will confront the next generation. “How many are just waiting to enter an institution?” she asked.

Depression is the “number one” problem for older folks living alone, Campbell. And if there’s no transportation, isolation sets in. “You’re alone. Where do you go? Who do you call?” she asked. With 1,000 people over age 60 in town, she said, more than half are in the 60-80 age group and 260 are between 70 and 80, or the “median age” when people seek advice from the COA.

“We want to reinstate the director to give people the opportunity to make that call,” Campbell said. “I’m asking you to vote from your heart.”

COA member Raymond Gagnon made an eloquent plea for the cause.

“Many of the citizens who need this can’t come here tonight,” he said. Maybe they can’t see well, are afraid to fall or just don’t stay up this late. Funding this line item represents a small fraction of “the millions of dollars we’re dealing with here tonight,” he said. “I’m asking you no, I’m begging you,” to vote for the COA director.

But resident Karen Luddington disagreed. “This is a needed position, but we can’t afford it this year,” she said. “It’s irresponsible to create a new position now.”

Resident John Oelfke countered with a quote from former President Ronald Reagan. “If not now, when? If not us, who?” he asked. “We can’t afford not to do this.”

Resident Dina Samfield called for putting the question on a tax override but Guercio disagreed. Although the budget was out of balance, he said, things would be sorted out at the end. If necessary, it can be reworked over the summer and revisited at a special town meeting in the fall, he and others have said.

Selectmen haven’t voted to forward an override, Guercio said, so the issue remains open. The board would be “receptive” to “clump in” the school override in a general override, “if there is one,” he said. “I urge you not to single out” the COA position, he said.

Voters funded the director’s position for half a year before adjourning the meeting, to continue the following night, June 27.

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