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County bows out of senior center

Staff Writer

As of Jan. 1, Archuleta County will no longer run a senior center.

At a special meeting Wednesday, Nov. 20, set for the purpose of hearing public comment on the 2014 proposed budget, the topic that garnered the most discussion was the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners’ decision to terminate its contract with the San Juan Basin Area Agency on Aging (AAA) to run the senior center.

But, the county will continue to fund the existing program in the 2014 budget in order to provide a safety net.

Earlier this fall, the commissioners expressed interest in having another organization run the senior center, currently located at the Ross Aragon Community Center, in order to potentially save the county money.

In response, AAA issued a request for proposals in order to seek alternatives to the county running the center, with county officials stating they would terminate their operation of the center only if a suitable alternative were found.

That alternative was found in the sole response to the RFP — Archuleta Seniors, Inc. (ASI).

According to an annotated 2014 budget presented to the BoCC in a work session earlier this month, ASI anticipates $286,260 in income for the year, coming from AAA, Archuleta County, and charges for services such as transportation and congregate and home-delivered meals, as well as contributions and donations ($10,000 from the Town of Pagosa Springs).

The budget includes $145,000 from Archuleta County, on par with what Archuleta County has previously budgeted for the center out of its own coffers.

However, the BoCC has not decided on a final budget number to contribute to the center, but will have to make a decision by Dec. 15, the statutory deadline for the board to approve its 2014 budget.

The ASI budget shows $268,260 in expenditures for the year, as well.

That expenditure level allows for a head cook to work 40 hours per week, with a manager, assistant manager, assistant cook and kitchen assistant each working 32 hours per week.

Not including insurance and other labor costs, personnel costs are estimated at $121,056 for 2014, according to the budget.

Expenditures also include a budgeted $31,723.68 for rent at the Ross Aragon Community Center, with ASI board members stating at a work session earlier in November that the center would tentatively be open weekdays from 7 a.m.-4 p.m.

The BoCC, however, told the ASI board members they could likely reduce that rent payment with the community center in order to save money.

At the Nov. 20 meeting in which the BoCC terminated its contract with AAA to run the center, all three commissioners stated that their concern in terminating the county’s contract to provide senior services was ensuring that services would be provided at the current or higher level.

Commissioner Clifford Lucero stated that he was not in favor of ASI’s proposal at first, stating he wanted to make sure seniors were not, “thrown under the bus.”

“We think ASI can keep the same service or better,” Lucero said later.

AAA director Christina Knoell said ASI is also looking at partnering with Archuleta County’s transportation department for Mountain Express to provide senior transportation.

In later discussion on that topic, commissioner Michael Whiting voiced support for the concept, noting that senior services and affordable services are, “intimately connected.”

County attorney Todd Starr said he hoped the cost of providing transportation would break even, if not generate revenue, for Mountain Express.

Other conversation on the decision centered around the center’s meal services, including providing meals for the Lutheran school (the only reason the center is in operation on Thursdays), and the possibilities of the Lutheran school contracting with another entity for meals or raising costs.

At the end of the discussion, the BoCC unanimously voted to terminate its contract with AAA, paving the way for ASI to take over the senior center.

According to the Archuleta County website, senior services currently provides, “lunch services, both congregate and home delivered, transportation services, Medicare counseling, legal assistance, family caregiver support programs, community resources, and Alzheimer’s support groups.”

randi@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on December 2, 2013.