SAC approves budget request

More services needed for growing elder population
Thu, 01/23/2020 - 7:30pm

For the third year in a row, the town’s Senior Advisory Committee will ask the Town Council to substantially increase its operating budget for the next year.

At their Jan. 18 meeting, the committee unanimously approved a $36,100 budget request for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The proposal is $13,000 or 56 percent more than the SAC’s $23,100 allocation for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020. In the previous year, which ended June 30, 2019, the committee’s budget was $17,100. The increase from 2019 to 2020 was $6,000 or 35 percent.

The SAC’s request will be forwarded to the Town Manager and Finance Department for inclusion in the overall budget proposal presented to the Town Council.

The largest item in the committee’s budget is $17,500 in wages for the Senior Coordinator, Gloria Redlich. Her work schedule was expanded this year to 14 hours per week.

The committee is seeking $10,000 to fund its transportation initiative for a full year, taking the Senior Ride Service from a wintertime pilot program funded by grants and donations to a year-round service for seniors, people with special needs, and caregivers without their own transportation, included in the town’s property-tax-supported general fund budget. Under the program, island taxi owners and a mainland ride-share driver collect a $3.00 fee from riders registered with the Senior Coordinator and bill the town for the balance of the established fare. (Separately, the SAC is working to formalize the service’s eligibility and operating guidelines.)

Based on their experience with the SRS pilot program, the SAC estimates the cost of subsidizing on-island and off-island cab rides at up to $450 per month for 10 months, or $4,500. Expanding the service to the peak summer season, and expecting more demand, the subsidized taxi rides would cost an estimated $400 per week for 10 weeks, totaling $4,000. An alternative for the summer, with a dedicated van and driver offering rides on-island instead of the taxis, is estimated at $4,800 for ten weeks, including wages, fuel and maintenance.

The SRS has been very popular, committee members said, and has inspired some private donations to continue the program after small grants from the R.I. Office of Healthy Aging were exhausted.

The budget proposal also includes line items for the Coordinator’s (and SAC members’) registration and travel to professional development conferences in Rhode Island ($1,400), and supplies for social enrichment programs ($1,200) and educational programs ($2,000) for seniors in the community. The SAC’s home safety program, which conducts in-home safety evaluations and provides equipment such as grab bars, shower mats and raised toilet seats, would add $400 to buy supplies.

Other lines in the proposed budget continue the SAC’s payment of rent for use of the Community Center owned by the Block Island Economic Development Foundation ($1,200 for the year) and stipends for certain programs ($1,500). Administrative expenses, such as printing and copying, postage, paper and ink or toner, round out the budget with $900.

“There is nothing trivial in our request,” Redlich said; “rather, it reflects the growth of our programs, as we create them in response to the needs of our senior constituency.”

The next meeting of the Senior Advisory Committee will be on Tuesday, February 18 at 9:30 a.m. in Town Hall.