October 24, 2021

County may cut senior centers’ days of operation

Feeling hemmed in

S.N. Briere/Staff Reporter

Kathy Hall of Cortland works on sewing a quilt Thursday at the David Harum Senior Center in Homer. The Cortland County Area Agency of Aging is looking at modifying days the various county centers are open.

Virginia Hall slowly looped the threaded needle through the hole — one stitch — before moving on to the next and the next. She was working on a quilt, her daughter and two other women all doing the same.

They are all part of a quilting club that meets on Thursday mornings at the David Harum Senior Center in Homer.

The women are worried about whether they’ll be able to hold the club anymore. A proposed reduction in the number of days in which senior centers in Cortland County are open is up for a vote by the county Legislature this Thursday.

Quilter Fran Armstrong said she’s hoping the Area Agency on Aging chooses to keep the Homer center open on Thursday because that’s when the club meets.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Armstrong said. “We might have to change our day, but I’m not sure that’s possible.”

Legislators will vote Thursday evening on the 2020 budget, which would:

  • Cut the days open for Cortland, Marathon, Homer and Willet senior centers down to three days a week. Cortland, Marathon and Willet are open five days a week now and Homer is open four days a week.
  • Cut the days open for McGraw, Harford, Scott, and Truxton senior centers down to two days a week. Scott is open five days a week, while the rest are open only four days a week now.

All centers would be open for seven hours each day they are open. The Cortland center will also continue serving meals five days a week.

Virginia Hall can’t remember how many years she’s been going to the center, but it had to have been at least 20 years, Armstrong said, about as long as Armstrong has been attending, if not longer. Hall started going to work on ceramics and when the quilting group started she joined that. Then she got her daughter Kathy Hall involved and she’s been going for at least five years.

Kathy said she likes going to the center for the quilting club because “it’s hard to find a place to really go and be accepted.”

“They treat you like family,” she said.

That’s what makes the senior centers special, the women agreed.

Charlotte Altmann has only been going for about a year, but she loves it. She said it would be a shame if it didn’t get used as much.

One reason behind the change is the county faces a tough budget year, and the Legislature has asked departments to make cuts where it can and must decide between a budget that would raise property taxes 7% or keep the tax levy within the 2% state-mandated cap but take a total of $1.8 million from the general fund. The general fund has $11 million; the county’s goal is to keep 10% of its budget, or $14 million, in reserve.

“While I regret the modifications will likely be made, older adults have made it clear that high property taxes are making it a growing challenge for them to remain in the county and they do not want to see increased taxes,” said Elizabeth Haskins, the director of the county Area Agency on Aging in an email Thursday. “Regarding the impact on the centers, I am thankful that all centers remain open and the agency has not lost a foothold in any one part of the county.”

Haskins could not be reached this morning to provide information on the impact on the budget of reducing the number of days the centers were open, or how much was cut.

The Legislature considered cutting senior center hours in 2013, but ultimately decided to keep the same hour and days.

Haskins said one consideration was that overall participation has steadily declined. The number of participants at the centers declined 35% from 2014 to 2018, with 1,341 participants in 2018, down from 2,060 in 2014. There have been 935 participants this year through May 30.
There was also a five-county comparison study done comparing Cortland County to Chenango, Madison, Tioga and Tompkins counties.

“Under the proposed tentative budget the Cortland County senior centers’ days, hours of operation and meals served still exceed Madison, Tompkins, Chenango and Tioga,” she said.

Haskin noted that if one center isn’t open, there is another nearby that is.

However, Armstrong said the change is still going to affect a lot of people.

“I don’t think people fully understand what they (the centers) do,” Armstrong said. “There are a lot of people that depend on this as a social thing and older people need to get out and be social.”

Some also depend on it for meals.

Bob Thompson travels from Song Lake in Preble to the Homer center because it gives him a schedule to stick to and initiative to get out of the house.

“You get to meet new people, new situations,” he said. “You commit yourself to it. I make it a rule to pretty much be here because it gives your life a lot more structure.”