Senior Advisory Committee dismayed at budget rejection
Members of the Senior Advisory Committee (SAC) expressed a great deal of disappointment and dismay over the fact that the Town Council rejected a requested budget increase. The request was for $16,725, an increase of $11,725 over last year’s budget. That rejection, members believed, was a result of a misunderstanding and some trivialization of their work by members of the community and the Town Council.
“I don’t think people really understand what the committee does,” Chair Gail Pierce said. “It’s not just basket weaving,” said member Dottie Graham.”
Reviewing its work over the past six years, committee members highlighted a number of specific ways in which the group has been serving the senior community on island.
The SAC, officially formed in 2007, asked the town for — and received — $1,000 for the years 2011 and 2012 to underwrite the expenses of running programs. For fiscal year 2013, the SAC requested and received $5,000.
Of the latter funding, $1,000 was allocated to sustaining programs and $4,000 for a part-time senior coordinator whose job it would be to identify, develop and oversee needed programs and to provide advocacy services for seniors, among other tasks. Kathleen Mitchell was hired for that position.
Miitchell’s salary was predicated on a five-hour work schedule; however, the demands of the post quickly ran way beyond that allocation, and she found herself putting in 20 or more hours weekly, the members said.
“We can’t expect an employee to continue to work at a half-time job for $4,000,” said Graham. Believing that Mitchell should not be expected to volunteer her time, the committee increased its budget request, which was then rejected by the council.
With a senior population that is largely dependent on volunteer services, SAC members also spoke about FISH (Friends in Service Helping), which the committee has sponsored and maintained for a number of years. FISH is an organization connecting individuals that can provide assistance to those who need it.
The committee also related its role in advocating a raise on the cap on household incomes — from $15,000 to $30,000 and later to $45,000 — as the minimum requirement for tax relief eligibility.
“It’s important to remind people of the annual group driving course we sponsor that’s offered for seniors by AARP; it allows individuals to apply for discounts on their auto insurance,” SAC member Linda Spak said.
Pierce reminded the committee of the brochure called “Senior Moments” that board members created as a resource directory for seniors — providing a list of agencies and services available on island and off.
“I’m also very proud of the Block Island Bulletin Board; it’s something we created and continue to administer,” Spak said.
According to Sandra Kelly, who along with Janet Merritt administers the communications network, “the Bulletin Board has close to 225 members and to date has put up some 1,100 postings.” Kelly called it “a great success.”
The needs of an aging population
Graham pointed out that the 2010 United States Census indicated that seniors made up a significant portion of the island’s total population. She said, “The census showed 265 persons over 65. The report also showed the population growing older, with 529 islanders over 50,” she said.
Kathleen Mitchell pointed out the importance of the committee’s role in health and wellness promotion, which she saw as a significant part of her responsibilities. To serve those ends, she said it was important to “promote activities in which individuals interact with others and engage in activities promoting communication.”
Mitchell added these services were critical for people who might find it harder and harder to go out. “The need for socialization is fundamental to all of us,” Mitchell said. She saw “health as dependent on recreation, nutrition and fitness.”
“I think the community should know that people participating in activities pay their own way for transportation and program fees,” Chair Gail Pierce said. She added, “The same is true for the Lunch Bunch and Soup Group, which do not get money from the town. Instead, we depend on people donating money, food and services.”
The group brainstormed ways to help change the town’s response to their budget request — recruiting more people to support Senior Advisory at the Financial Town Meeting on May 6 and presenting a written report to community members for consideration before they vote. To those ends, a new subcommittee was created to meet before the Financial Town Meeting and strategize about how the group should approach the town with its financial needs.
The group continued to search for space for a fitness center on island and discussed pursuing possibilities with the medical center and others.
Concerned about the difficulties of using food stamps on the island, the committee asked for information, but because Pierce thought that members of the Town Council were investigating it, board members agreed to wait.
Kelly said she was still in the process of learning how to put up a visual calendar on Google Group, the server on which the Bulletin Board is posted.