The mayor of Benton says the Marshall County Senior Citizens Center board has voted unanimously to close the facility. The announcement comes one day before the fiscal court was to approve a budget that significantly reduces grant funding for nonprofits, including the center.
Mayor Rita Dodson posted on Facebook Tuesday afternoon that she received a call from board member Ken Lewis saying that the board members are in their 80s and are tired of fighting the funding issue.
Dodson wrote, “This is a sad day for our wonderful close knit community. If we can’t extend a helping hand for our elderly that have blazed the path for our current and future generations then that speaks volumes for our integrity.”
Judge-Executive Kevin Neal And The Budget
WKMS News interviewed Judge-Executive Kevin Neal earlier this month regarding the center’s funding. He said he’s been working with organizations that are heavily dependent on local government dollars since 2016, trying to figure out a way to help them be sustainable in a time of budgetary change. One such effort, he said, involves “The Kentucky Philanthropy Initiative” and “transfer of wealth” as an option for future funding. The idea is to call on organizations to secure philanthropy gifts from citizens in the community rather than rely on government funding.
Neal described “stagnant or declining” government dollars and said organizations need to be trained to tap into local donors to survive. He described the community kitchen Marcella’s Kitchen as an example of an organization that has secured significant local and regional support. He suggested Marcella’s offers many of the same services as other county nonprofits, such as the senior center. The idea is, if the senior center closed, Marcella’s Kitchen or some other entity could pick up the slack.
Neal said he sat down with Marcella’s Kitchen to discuss a scenario where other organizations had a financial decline and had to close their doors and whether her nonprofit provide meals for homebound seniors and the families that need it. “And the answer was yes,” he said, that they would open up their doors to the senior citizens to come and socialize at the location. He noted also meeting with organizations that could step in as volunteer drivers for the homebound service.
“The organizations have been made aware of the potential declines and the demands on the county budget,” said Neal. “And it’s not just the retirement. I’ve still got about $450,000 to commit over the next two years. But as soon as the sewer project is completed, that’s about $190,000 - that’ll be a debt service come 2020.” He said other projects involve a multi-facility building to replace a lost maintenance building and subsidizing 911 (which he said he wants to get off the county budget). He also noted increasing pension costs, close to $900,000 in the next two years.
He said other funding options need to be looked at. “The current way that it’s being done - requesting so much monies or relying on so much monies on the government - it’s not gonna work. That long term support is not going to be there. And so, that’s for the past four years I’ve been working with other organizations. Marcella’s is a prime example. They will feed anybody. They’re a volunteer base. There’s the philanthropy initiative. There may be people in our community that step up.”
Neal said, “As Christians, it’s our responsibility to take care of those that are elderly, need to be fed, need to be clothed. I don’t think it’s government that is supposed to take over for our Christian duties.”
Marcella Perkins said her nonprofit consists of between 160-170 volunteers and served 2,067 meals in the month of May. She said the Kitchen feeds the exceptional school three days a week and is working with a summer feeding program.
Perkins said in an interview with WKMS News this month, she’d be more than glad to take up any slack, cooking meals for seniors. She said she has someone willing to deliver meals, but it won’t be part of the ‘Meals on Wheels’ program. She said she relies on grants, but avoids government grants because of their various controls and requirements.
She said she would keep her facility open beyond its current hours for seniors to gather and socialize if someone came in to oversee that aspect of operation.
Purchase Area Development District
When WKMS News interviewed Purchase Area Development District Executive Director Jennifer Beck Walker earlier this month about their senior services, she said she had not yet received notification of the senior center’s plans to close. She said PADD subcontracts state and federal funds to the eight senior centers in their service area.
When asked if each county is required to have a senior center, Walker said “The state wants what they call a focal point for senior services in each county.”
As for the center’s closure, “This is not unusual, unfortunately,” she said. “As funding gets harder and harder to come by, our small service delivery agencies are struggling. And what would happen if any county senior center was to inform us ‘we’re sorry, we don’t have the support to continue the service any longer’ the ADD would work with the state and we would make sure that services could be delivered. We would try to identify another service provider. I’m sure we’d have to go through a procurement process. And in the meantime, the ADD is responsible for making sure services continue.”
The homecare funding that comes from the state is based on the idea that it’s cheaper to provide community support to help people remain in their homes and independent than institutional care in nursing homes. This is not Meals on Wheels, but rather a homecare home delivered program, she explained. The federal Older Americans Act program also involves home meals. Then there’s federally-funded congregate meals served at the center.
Because meal funds are federal funds, they require strict guidelines. ADD contracts with a registered dietician to create menus that meet the federal requirements. Walker said, “We can only use those funds to reimburse for meals provided to eligible seniors that meet those federal nutrition requirements.” She said she believes the services Marcella’s provides are “wonderful”, but the federal and state funds couldn’t be used unless Marcella’s adheres to the requirements.
“We would look for another provider who would be willing to provide those meals that meet those nutritional requirements for people who are eligible for the services.,” Walker said. “But in many of our counties our funds don’t go as far as we need them to. And we have people on waiting lists. So, that would be a perfect example of, if someone came to us and said ‘I’d like a home-delivered meal’ and we didn’t have enough federal and state funds to provide that, we could say ‘well, we’ll put you on our waiting list, but in the meantime here is an option for you’ and that would be a wonderful marriage.”
“We want to keep those funds in Marshall County,” she said.
Other Senior Citizens Centers
Hardin Mayor Randall Scott is on the board of the South Marshall Senior Center, which is a separate entity from the Benton center. Scott said the center operates with subsidy from the county and relies on donations. When asked about new sources of funding, he said it will take longer than a short period of time - even a year or two - before new mechanisms are in place. He noted it could be harder for a senior center to secure donations than, say, a food pantry or a nonprofit like Marcella’s Kitchen.
About eight to 15 people come to the South center. They don’t do home deliveries. He said the center provides more than food, but serves as a gathering place for local seniors, with quilting, flower arrangements, bingo, guest speakers and other activities. He said most that come in are over the age of 80. He said many of them come from the immediate area and doesn’t think most of them would travel to a Benton location.
The senior center in Calvert City closed in 2015.