Senior citizens across Cortland County can expect big changes in their senior centers within the next few months. The county will step away from the centers, offering help with grant applications in a move that would save the county much of the $533,000 a year it now spends on them.
A half dozen Truxton seniors joined members of the senior center ad hoc committee, an advisory panel of the county’s Health And Human Services Committee, at Truxton Town Hall on Thursday evening to learn more.
The ad hoc committee was created in 2020 to evaluate senior center programming in the wake of declining participation and increasing costs. After receiving feedback from seniors, the committee
drafted a proposal.
The plan is to create a central senior center in Cortland, using state and federal funding, and invite the seven outlying centers to apply to become a satellite program. These satellite sites would be community-run — the municipality, a faith-based organization, hired employees or directly by the seniors.
Each satellite would get either $8,500 or $11,500 a year from the county — for at least five satellite sites, the Area Agency on Aging reports.
The county outlined a potential budget:
- $3,900 for staff costs.
- $4,400 for food, based on $6.50 a meal for 15 people for 45 weeks a year, or $2,375 with a suggested donation of $3 a meal.
- $1,300 for utilities.
- $425 for activities.
- $200 for supplies.
“That’s the first thing we want to say — these centers, the satellites, will not be staffed by county employees,” said Liz Haskins, director of the Cortland County Area Agency on Aging. “When people apply for these grants, they can say, ‘We should do this,’ or ‘We’re going to take some of the grant money the county gives us, and we’re going to order food.’
It’s up to them. They can use those grant funds how they want.”
The ad hoc committee of Area Agency on Aging employees and the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee have spent the past several weeks visiting with senior centers to explain the new plan.
The county will assist the centers in grant applications when they are made available at the end of the month, and satellite sites could get started as early as September.
The six Truxton seniors sat in the town hall, listening to Haskins’ presentation without interruption.
“What the center will offer is really dependent on what the seniors in your area want to do,” said Cathy Bischoff (D-Cortland), chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee. “We will work with you, very closely, and together we’ll make the best program we possibly can. We know this is an evolving process, and it will start with a goal that might look like one thing in September, but then by December you decide itneeds to be something else.”
“We’re not going to have the regulations that we’ve had in the past,” said Ann Homer (D-Cortland) vice chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee. “I know one of the things we learned when talking to focus groups in 2019 was no more meatloaf, so now you don’t have to worry about meatloaf, you can have whatever food you want. We’re not going to tell you what to do, we’re not going to play Big Brother.”
Although the committee members asked the seniors for feedback Thursday, they were met with mostly silence and shrugs. One senior spoke up to say she always enjoyed pizza and bingo nights.
Bischoff said seniors in the town of Virgil are considering a computer lab, while seniors in Willet are interested in attending a Facebook training course.
“All we’re asking from them is for them to put their grant application together, and they can choose a lead person to be the one to say what the group wants,” Haskins said. “Every site is going to be different — I think that’s the most exciting thing about this, it empowers the people to do what they want to do.”