Michelle Goldsmith presents to commissioners of behalf of the Carbon County Senior Center.
The Carbon County Commission Chambers were packed with concerned seniors on Wednesday evening as they made a plea to commissioners to restore the local senior centers to full operations.
With recent budget cuts county-wide, the tough decision was made to decrease services offered through the Carbon County Senior Center in both Price and East Carbon. According to commissioner Casey Hopes, who served on the commission when the difficult decision was made, the cutbacks were not isolated to just the senior center. Hopes explained that all departments were asked to find a way to cut their budgets by a significant percentage. Then, department heads proceeded to explore options to make that possible.
For the Carbon County Senior Center, the decision was made to completely close the Price and East Carbon centers on Fridays. This means that there are no meals for seniors, with the exception of those receiving Meals of Wheels, and no Friday activities, such as bingo. This also resulted in a decrease in hours for center employees. The change went into effect on Jan. 1.
Michelle Goldsmith was joined by a number of senior citizens as she made a plea to commissioners to reverse this decision during the meeting on Wednesday. Her presentation began with a short video highlighting the many benefits provided by the center, such as nutritious meals, social activities, exercise, a sense of community and more.
“Our goal is to convince you to amend the budget and bring back Friday activities,” Goldsmith said. “There is a concern that closing the East Carbon and Price City centers on Friday is costing the community money as seniors’ mental and physical health is compromised. The senior centers’ primary focus is health, nutrition and socialization.”
Goldsmith reported that there are 3,420 seniors in Carbon County, and at least 450 seniors attended the centers in November. Goldsmith explained that of those seniors, not all that need nutrition qualify for the Meals on Wheels program, making the fact that lunch is no longer offered on Fridays at the center detrimental.
The presentation continued as Goldsmith spoke about mental health. She credited the centers for providing a safe place during the day for seniors as well as a micro-community to provide support for one another.
“Friday to Monday is a long time for someone who is depressed,” she said.
Goldsmith also commented on the health services provided at the centers such as blood pressure, diabetes and hearing screenings as well as exercise classes, health fairs and more.
To end her presentation, Goldsmith encouraged commissioners to seek additional revenue sources, such as the Silver Sneakers program, a fitness program for Medicare beneficiaries, as well as grants and fundraising. She also suggested planting a garden to decrease food costs and increasing the daily recommended lunch donation to bring in additional revenue. Finally, Goldsmith asked commissioners to consider cutting other parts of the county’s budget, such as employee travel, county cell phones and commissioners’ salaries, to offset costs.
The floor was then turned over to the commissioners for comment. The commissioners expressed the financials struggles the county is facing, resulting in budget cuts county-wide.
“The realities of it are that the county right now has 47 millions dollars worth of debt on buildings and projects to the county,” Commissioner Tony Martines said. “The mineral lease money has gone from anywhere from 15 down to two million. So, it is like you took on a new job but had the same debt but your revenue wasn’t the same.”
While commissioners expressed that no immediate changes can be made to bring the centers back to operating at full capacity, they pledged to continue looking for solutions to the revenue problem.
“We are going to do our best to make this area better, which in turn will make the senior center better as well,” said Martines. “We don’t have any good answers for you right now, but we aren’t going to make any promises we can’t keep either.”
Commissioner Hopes and Jensen echoed Martines’ statement.
“I don’t know what the answers are,” Commissioner Casey Hopes said. “There are no easy answers with the budget being how it is and the mineral lease monies being how they are. It is going to take some effort and patience to get everything fixed.”