Senior meals, programs to end on October 15

The Candler County Senior Center on North Rountree St.

For over 30 years, Action Pact (formerly Concerted Services Inc.) has provided senior services to the community, including delivering meals to homebound seniors and providing activities at a central location for seniors on the go. 

As of Oct. 15, all of those programs will come to an end. Candler County Commissioners originally voted in June to put the Senior Services building up for auction. After the vote was taken, however, County Administrator Bryan Aasheim told commissioners on Monday that he learned that the building was bound through a Community Development Block Grant for use as a Senior Center through November of 2027.

If the intended use of the building changes before that deadline, Aasheim told commissioners, a prorated portion of the CDBG has to be returned to the Department of Community Affairs.

Original discussion of the facility in June centered around installing a new HVAC system. At that time, however, the county was facing a $350,000 budget shortfall. That led commissioners to consider putting the building up for auction instead of bearing those expenses. 

After voter registration moved out of the building more than a year earlier, the other tenant of the property was The Sunshine House, which has since found a new location.

Action Pact had been given an extended deadline of Oct. 15 to vacate the property, and Bryan Singleton, executive director of Action Pact, hoped that on Monday commissioners would reconsider their prior vote.

After learning that the county still plans to put the building up for auction, Singleton said, “We knew it was going to go that way, but we were hoping for a miracle.”

When learning of the county’s original decision to put the building up for auction, Action Pact approached the City about housing the Senior Services in the same wing of the old Metter Middle School in which Action Pact’s Head Start program is housed.

While that location will provide office space in which Action Pact can continue its Energy Assistance and Crisis Needs program, it is not an option for the Senior Center, Singleton said.

“The renovations to make that facility compliant will cost over $200,000, so that is not going to happen.

“We have been partnering with the Area Agency on Aging for over 30 years serving 10 counties, and now, Candler County will be the only one that does not supply us with a building.”

“They are kicking the seniors out,” Singleton said. “The seniors will have no place to go.”

While saying that he understands the budgetary challenges each county is facing, Singleton said, “This is no different than any other county, but (Candler County) chose to cut services for seniors. That’s what bothers me most. (Cutting senior services) was never considered in the nine other counties, but it seems it’s the first thing this county went back to. I just hate it for the seniors who are the ones who ultimately suffer.”

The local program serves 53 seniors through on-site or home-delivered meals. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of meals are presently delivered to the homes.

 

It’s a financial decision, administrator says

The building was originally constructed in the 1960s to serve as a health department. In 2003, the county applied for a CDBG grant in order to renovate the facilities for a Senior Center.

To reimburse the Department of Community Affairs the prorated amount of $165,000 will be a long-term savings for the county, Aasheim said. 

According to Aasheim, the annual operating expenses for the building is $25,000 ($150,000 over the next six years) Additionally, he said, there are capital expenses that are needed at the building, including a new HVAC system and small equipment and the annual costs of liability and property insurance coverage.

Aasheim said that by selling the building, the assessed value can go back onto the tax rolls, providing revenue for the county. 

As Aasheim reported on Monday, “(Action Pact) has requested that we consider allowing them to stay if they pay a portion of the utilities expense. I have communicated the amounts to them and am waiting to hear back, but unless they are willing to take responsibility for the cost of operating the building, it still likely makes sense to move forward with the sale.”

While understanding Singleton’s position, Aasheim clarified on Tuesday, saying, “The seniors were not the first thing cut from the budget. First salaries and positions were cut.

“Nobody wants to close the Senior Center or the provision of services, but the feedback we receive from taxpayers - including senior citizens - is not to go up on our taxes.

“We have to look at every way we can to try to keep taxes as low as possible for our residents.

“We are concerned about our seniors and we will look for avenues to provide services, but this is the decision the commissioners have made and we will move forward.

“We want the best for our residents, but we do not have the resources to provide everything for everyone. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got.”

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