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Proposed changes concern seniors

By TRAVIS HANDY

travis@southwesttimes.com

In a meeting of Pulaski Town Council last week, Vice Mayor Joseph Goodman suggested merging the town’s economic development and community relations departments into one community development department. As part of his suggested plan, the position of senior center director would be reduced to part-time, using volunteers to “keep the same hours” at Pulaski Senior Center on North Washington Avenue.

The total operating budget for the senior center for the current fiscal year 2012-13 is $80,960. For this fiscal year, Pulaski County agreed to provide $21,000 for the center, as many people who use it live outside of town. The next year’s budget would increase to $82,423 with $68,533 covering personnel at true cost. For the next budget, Goodman recommended not asking the county for money because the county already has “serious financial issues.”

Although they realize this is only a proposed change, the idea doesn’t sit well with seniors who fear losing access to programs housed by the center and supported by the staff members who work in the facility. Currently, Community Relations Director Barbi Tate fills the roles of senior center director and the town’s events planner.

Gathered for activities and a twice-weekly local Agency on Aging (AOA) program called “Friendship Café” on Tuesday, several seniors voiced their opinions about what they call “the only place they have,” and some of the possibilities implied by the previous week’s conversation in council. Their concerns were for the center staying open as well as who will run it.

“I don’t think it’s right,” said Virgie Newcomb. “We need our (center) here. I’ve read that most of us come from out in the county, but most of us are really from Pulaski.”

From July to December 2012 the senior center served 1,148 town citizens and 790 county citizens. The Walking Club the center conducts at Central Gym included 554 town citizens and 334 county citizens in the same period of time.

Newcomb said the center is important to her because it gives her opportunities to get away from her daily routine and enjoy time with her peers. She cares for family members and lacks chances for the same conversation at home.

“It gives me something to do and places to go,” chimed in Patty Cox. “We get to meet new friends and have fellowship with each other.” She added the group is always made to feel welcome and at home when visiting the center. Her sentiments were echoed around the room.

“I enjoy coming for the fellowship and just to be with people who are near my age,” said 85-year-old Carl Goad. “The people have become family here. When we come for movies or dinners it’s more like a family dinner than anything else.”

Cox and Holcomb pointed out they come to the center three, four or more times a week for activities, meals and occasional field trips.

People using the center worry volunteers wouldn’t be present enough to fill the positions already occupied by Tate and her assistant, Marion Wojcik, possibly limiting access to the center when the programs they attend are supposed to be held. Friendship Café and Pulaski Retired and Senior Volunteer Programs (RSVP), both programs of the New River Valley AOA, are housed inside the center. RSVP alone coordinates about 180 senior volunteers through the center, according to the program’s director, Ava Stilwell.

“I think there would be some volunteers, but they won’t be doing what Barbi and Marion do for us,” said Cox.

AOA Executive Director Tina King indicated the agency would look into other possible options if changes at the center ever became an issue for housing either of the programs, indicating there isn’t enough information at this point to raise such concerns.

“We appreciate the town allowing us the use of space for the RSVP program and the Friendship Café,” said King. “At this point, I don’t know enough about the proposed changes and how they will impact the availability or use of the senior center or the level of programming to make additional comments.”

Town Manager John Hawley said he thinks the senior center is “very important to the overall quality of life here in town.”

“I think it’s an important function of our local government to a section of our population that is growing,” Hawley said. He added there are other times when seniors are in the center helping out with tasks for the town, such as stuffing Easter eggs for the annual egg hunt, folding newsletters, or preparing coupon bags passed out at the annual fire parade. “They’ve basically been willing to help us any time we’ve needed them to,” he said.

Hawley said the senior center is a big part of the community and it should be a place where seniors can gather when they want something to do. He said council would have to work on a solution to serve seniors at the same level as usual should any proposed changes affect operations at the center.

“At this point in time it is just a discussion of combining the community relations … and the economic development (departments) into one department—community development,” said Hawley. “What we have is our community relations director serves as the senior center director, community relations director and events planner, so I think you’re asking a whole lot of one person.”

He said town staff and council will have to do more research before any decisions are made in the matter, although he feels “there is no community” if there isn’t an active senior center.

Between readings of poetry, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing “God Bless America” before the group shared their meal, another senior, Eyvonne Spencer, shared her thoughts, invoking the sentiments of the majority of those present.

“I think the senior center is the best thing Pulaski has to offer senior citizens,” Spencer said. “We’ve carried our load over a half-century and it’s time for the community to give back to the senior citizens.”

6 Responses to Proposed changes concern seniors

  1. Vanessa Walker

    March 27, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    I think vice mayor Goodman’s proposal is just a reflection of his own self serving propaganda. If money is tight then why is he proposing to spend money, unnecessarily, to hire an expensive agency to recruit a new town manager? Just because he is not originally from Pulaski County he seems to have some mentality that no one local should apply or serve as Town Manager. He seems to believe that only a candidate from outside of the NRV is qualified for the position. Why not use the funds that he is proposing to spend on recruitment and put towards something that actually SERVES the community?? I think most citizens would agree that taking away from our senior citizens is definitely NOT the way to go. Goodman says on his website “We need to make sure that during the annual town budget discussions we are reevaluating all of our department budgets and contracts to ensure we are getting the most for what we pay and we need to make sure that no funds are being unnecessarily spent.”
    I do not believe Goodman is doing even a mediocre job of making sure funds aren’t unnecessarily spent if he thinks no one local is qualified to be Town Manager. He isn’t using good judgement of the town’s money since he wants to take funds away from our seniors in order to pay for unnecessary recruitment costs. I’m not sure, but if re-elections are this year for Goodman’s position maybe the voters and especially the senior voters that Goodman is taking funds away from should vote for someone else.

    • Also Concerned

      March 29, 2013 at 7:37 am

      I am not in favor of hiring from within the area either. Not because I feel no one is qualified, it is because once and for all, we need to break the cycle of “good ole boys”. It would be much easier and more effective if we have someon that does not have ties to ANYONE in this area. That way, needed changes can be made without upsetting your best friend or a long time property owner that does not want to inmprove their holdings. Playing the “Ah, now, I went to school with you” or “I watched you grow up” mentality needs to go!!! Look around you, all you see is a result of NO CHANGE! Are you wanting to continue in that same old same old?? Well, if you are, if you are the last one out, turn off the lights and shut the door!!

  2. Town Resident

    March 27, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Good for the seniors of our community!!! They have built this community and helped it thrive for many years. It would appear that it is of no particular interest to this council to keep something in this community to honor those citizens. Maybe Mr. Goodman should look back at what happened to the last council member who tried to close the senior center or prevent it from otherwise thriving.

    I hope the seniors of this town and county unite together and prove to this council what an asset the senior center is to our community. I think it would be a great injustice to our seniors to take one of the few things they have in our community.

  3. Just Plain Mad

    March 28, 2013 at 7:56 am

    So, let me get this straight…. We can have a meth clinic in town, but the one positive thing that we have to benefit our seniors is in jeopardy of losing some of its effectiveness. Way to go council. Make some positive improvements to this town, keep your campaign promises. Is it any wonder that businesses are moving into the county?? Wonder why they choose the county as their home versus the town? Is it any wonder that towns like Wytheville are booming while our small, community seems to dwindle more and more.

    And don’t even get me started on nothing in town for our youth and children. The one business in town that benefited our kids is now gone from what I hear so once again they are out in the cold. Come on lady and gentleman, get your priorities straight.

    Don’t misunderstand, I think it is wonderful that a resource to help our addicts is coming to our town to help them. I think it’s great that our local churches do so much to provide an outlet for our youth. But, the fact is, our town as a whole has turned their backs on the seniors and the youth of this town.

  4. ELC

    March 28, 2013 at 11:11 am

    I agree that there needs to be major cuts within the Town’s budget. The Council members need to take a serious look how the way the Town is managed and operated with the money which is allocated.

    While I do think the senior center’s budget should be reduced some, I only say that because the Town’s budget as a whole needs to be reduced. Furthermore, there are DIRE capital need improvements that are needed throughout town, including the water filtration plant.

    I do believe the senior citizens of our Town need a place to gather and socialize, I believe there are other needs when have to be addressed first.

  5. Andrew Cocke

    March 31, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Well here is the perspective from a 32 year old non native man here in Pulaski. We have to leave town for practically everything from office supplies to shoes. The town is crumbling to pieces. The school system seems to be systematically destroying our daughter, it has some serious inner city style bullying issues going on.

    My business, which bears the town of Pulaski BPOL generates most of it’s revenue from neighboring communities. I have contemplated if even having a “Pulaski” address hurts my marketing. My wife hates it here, as does my daughter. And I’m running out of positive rebuttals when we debate the subject at home.

    If Pulaski doesn’t get its act together, WE probably WONT be retiring here! Senior center or not.