Seniors paying attention to cuts

Groups don't want the services cut

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  • From left, Don Schweitzer, Pat Burd, Elsie Schweitzer and John Waldo enjoyed some good conversation and snacks at Camp Hope's Tuesday Supper Club last year.



"We are definitely talking about it. And seniors vote."
John Waldo, a member of both the Golden Agers and the Golden Jet Setters

BY LINDA SMITH HANCHARICK
Richard Wirth pretty much knows the pulse of seniors in this community. A member and officer of the Golden Jet Setters and a member of the township’s Senior Advisory Council, Wirth is in touch with what senior citizens in West Milford need and want.

Not surprising, Wirth was concerned with the township council’s recent decision to cut from the Community Services and Recreation budget and then direct the administration to cut even more for the remainder of the year and next. He plans on attending the next council meeting to find out just what is intended.

“I was notified Sunday and read about it in The Messenger,” Wirth said. “I plan to come to the next meeting.”

His main concern is with the services offered by the Older Adult Services division in the township, namely those provided by Gail Kahler and Patti Gillis. The programs offered include exercise programs like senior Olympics, Zumba Gold and Tai Chi, social programs like weekly pokeno and mahjongg, lunch and breakfast, free blood pressure screenings, free income tax help, Christmas and Halloween parties, dances and senior picnic. But the real value, he said, is in the expertise offered.

“She (Kahler) answers a lot of questions for us,” said Wirth, including about Medicare and elder law.

The Golden Jet Setters is one group of seniors in the township; they are located in the Upper Greenwood Lake section of town and meet at the UGL ambulance building on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. The other group is the Golden Agers. They meet at Hillcrest on the first and third Thursdays.

These senior groups run social events for their members and others. They have luncheons occasionally and trips. Wirth said the township's contributions to the groups are minimal. The participants pay their way for the parties and trips, with transportation reimbursed by the township for the buses a few times a year.

“We've been basically self-sustaining,” he said.

Wirth has been in West Milford for nearly two decades, but his wife’s family has been here since the 1940s. As a matter of fact, his mother-in-law was a charter member of the Jet Setters. He thinks the township has done much for seniors, but that other communities have done more. With cuts looming, he wants to make sure the seniors aren’t going to suffer.

“I’m trying to get as many people as I can to the meeting,” he said.

John Waldo agrees. Waldo is a member of both senior groups in town and has been here over 40 years. He also attends senior programs at Camp Hope. He said the talk of cutting the department has been a hot topic of conversation among the groups, and while the groups are pretty much self-sustaining, it's the services offered by the township that he is concerned with.

“Gail and Patti are so good,” Waldo said. “They’re the first people I'd go to if I have an issue. When you need help, I tell people ‘Go ask Gail’.”

If they can’t help you, he said, you're in trouble.

Waldo said he couldn’t comment yet on any changes because he is waiting to see what the council and administration will ultimately do. But, he said, the seniors are paying attention.

“We are definitely talking about it. And seniors vote.”

Cut the waste
In their budget discussions, the council decided to cut $115,000 from the Community Services and Recreation’s $1.47 million budget. Then last week, directed the administration to cut $100,000 additional for the remainder of this year alone, carrying over to next year. The department has 10 full-time and nine part-time employees, as well as many seasonal helpers. They run programs for children and adults, as well as the township's preschool program. The preschool program has been losing money for the past few years. This year is the last year of this program since the council cut the funding.

Councilman Lou Signorino said his intent is not to eliminate programs for seniors; rather he believes the council wants the department to be more efficient and organized.

“Our intention primarily is to try and cut some of the money that's being wasted,” Signorino said.

Although no dollar figure has been finalized, Signorino said it may be more prudent for the township to budget a certain amount of money to each of the senior groups instead of providing the programs for them. That's something he thinks will be discussed at the next township council meeting on June 25.

“Seniors get robbed. The last thing on my mind is to go after senior programs,” Signorino added. “We just have to be organized.”

Mayor Bettina Bieri was not present at last week’s council meeting but said she has read the minutes. She agrees with the council's attempt to tighten up on discretionary services but doesn't want to eliminate all programs.

“For the last several years, I have been suggesting to the council members to vacate the costly, dilapidated Hillcrest building in order to avoid the rent payments to the BOE (board of education) and high operating costs," said Bieri. "Although some modifications would be necessary, we could indeed accommodate the rec staff, senior programs and P.R.I.D.E. in the PAL building. The meeting rooms, offered to local groups and non-profits, could be relocated to the new library. Costs would decline while providing centrally located, ADA accessible, newer, nicer facilities for use by residents of all ages. The current council members appear on board with these facility changes. My intent was always merely to provide nicer facilities at reduced costs, not to eliminate the programs."

As for other programs, such as pottery classes and music lessons, they compete with local businesses and should be funded only by those enrolling in them and not subsidized by the public.

What do you think? Go to westmilfordmessenger.com and join in the conversation.

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