Warrensburg senior mealsite employee Rhonda Dalaba serves up plates of turkey and fixings during the venue’s early observance Thursday, Nov. 17 of the Thanksgiving holiday.
For at least four more months, Warren County’s seniors will continue to enjoy the aroma of food being cooked up at the mealsites situated in upcounty communities.
After hearing from a number of concerned citizens, county Supervisors decided Friday to postpone their planned shutdown of kitchens at the county’s eight mealsites.
Faced with a standing-room-only crowd, the county leaders reversed their plans on the mealsite changes as they passed a 2012 budget calling for $145.37 million in appropriations.
The mealsite program has been granted a reprieve through April 30, while the supervisors continue to review the program.
The approved spending plan represents a 1.7 percent increase in the tax levy. It calls for closing down the county departments of Human Resources and Planning, as well as mandating deep cuts to public works projects, and a few layoffs.
Friday Nov. 18, a standing-room-only crowd of people surrounded the supervisors as they reached their budget decisions during a three-hour marathon meeting. A number of those attending spoke out against cutbacks in services.
The supervisors had planned to shut down the mealsite kitchens, terminate five of the employees, and have the meals prepared in a centralized location, then delivered to the satellite mealsites. The change would have saved county taxpayers about $124,000.
The proposed plans have prompted objections from citizens in outlying communities, who have said such changes would severely diminish the social experience that the elderly now enjoy daily at the mealsites.
Father Jim Loughren of Bolton aired such an opinion.
“The quality of services is going to suffer,” he said, noting that the daily lunch is a highlight of many seniors’ lives.
Others cited the safety problems associated with driving longer distances, particularly in winter weather.
Raising objections to the mealsite changes were Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe, Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover and Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed and Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino.
“If these services drop off, it’s going to really change the way people live in the North Country,” Goodspeed said.
Among the upcounty citizens speaking out against the mealsite cutbacks were Chestertown Mealsite Manager Linda Lewis, as well as Calista Murray and Susan Prosser of Warrensburg. After hearing the concerns, the supervisors voted unanimously to earmark $40,000 of unappropriated funds in the budget to continue the program through April 30.
The cutback to senior mealsites wasn’t the only topic of concern as the supervisors met to finalize the county’s 2012 budget.
Bolton resident George Weinschenk questioned many specific expenditures, while he decried a decline in services. He said trees downed by Tropical Storm Irene had yet to be cleared by the county.
“You’re raising my taxes and lowering my services,” he said. “You can’t do that and expect me to be happy.”
Bolton resident and former county supervisor Alexander Gabriels, however, praised the county officials for curbing taxes, despite unavoidable increases in fuel expenses and costs of employee retirement and health care.
“A 1.7 percent increase in tax levy is a very good job,” he said.