The Essex County Meals on Wheels Program Central Kitchen in Elizabethtown.
Discussion over meetings being held by the Office of the Aging Department turned into a budget discussion a day before the tentative budget was scheduled to be released.
Department head Patty Bashaw addressed the Human Services committee during its Nov. 14 meeting, saying that she had set up a schedule to meet with seniors at different meal sites concerning the possibility of the program being eliminated in the 2012 budget.
That did not sit well with County Chairman and Jay Supervisor Randall “Randy” Douglas.
“I had no idea that this was on the table,” Douglas, who is not a member of the committee, said. “We should not rile people up before we see the actual budget.”
“I asked what I should do, and it was made clear to me that I should be out and speaking to the people,” Bashaw said. “I do not want to be behind the eight ball if the program is eliminated and we only have 15 days to respond to it.”
Committee Chairman David Blades of Lewis said that he had made the recommendation to Bashaw.
“Patty was getting a lot of calls and I suggested that she needed to do her homework,” Blades said.
Douglas still disagreed, because he felt it was a topic that needed to be looked at in the budget first.
“Putting things out there that have not been discussed is inappropriate,” Douglas said.
“With all due respect, this is not a fear campaign,” Moriah Supervisor and County Budget Officer Thomas “Tom” Scozzafava said. “I do not think that it is wrong to let the people know what programs could be gone.”
“I have not been out there trying to scare the people,” Bashaw said. “I could go out to these sites and say not to worry, you are always going to have a nutrition site. I am just trying to let people know what is out there on the table.”
Several supervisors said that they could never see the senior meal programs being eliminated.
“We should never, ever cut any support for our seniors, and I will never do that with my vote,” Schroon Supervisor Cathy Moses said. “A lot of these people who get these meals on wheels do so because they cannot get up to make their own food.”
“The fact is that you can’t do away with these services and you are going to have to override that cap, and that is the way we should be leaning,” Newcomb Supervisor George Canon said. “When we said we were going to try and get in under the 2-percent cap, you set certain things in motion.”
“The Meals on Wheels program is the thing that I receive that most amount of calls about,” Keene Supervisor William “Bill” Ferebee said. “It is important that they receive that one meal a day.”
“I don’t want anyone from the county going over to our town and telling them that the program may be closing,” Douglas said. “If the county does away with it, then so be it. I will provide for my seniors in my town.”
Scozzafava said that people each have things they feel are important that may be on the cutting table in the budget.
“I understand the way that you feel because I feel the same way about the Horace Nye Home,” Scozzafava said. “Ultimately, this board is going to have to make some tough decisions on what will stay and what will go.”
Scozzafava added that under the tentative budget, all items were still on the table until the budget committee made recommendations on potential cuts.
“At this point, it is still alive,” he said.
“I feel that there is a certain amount of frustration with all of us,” Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston said. “Since we have not gotten into it and started to hash out the budget, then everything is on the table.”
“Once we see the tentative budget, then things will become a lot more clear,” North Elba Supervisor Robert “Roby” Politi said. “Until we see that, then we are just chasing our tails.”
“We should let the budget committee go through their process and go from there,” Douglas said.
“Until the committee has had a chance to look at the figures, it really hard to follow through with anything right now,” Blades said.
Palmer said that the tentative budget will be ready on Nov. 15, at which time the budget committee could start holding meetings on it.
“I am presenting you with a tentative budget that represents the very least amount that we need to run things as they currently are,” Palmer said.