Havre Daily News
Visitors to the North Central Senior Center over the next week will be asked in questionnaires what they think about some proposed cuts in services meant to help the center stay on top of rising costs without reducing employee hours.
Possible changes include eliminating transportation services on Friday, serving frozen food, rather than a freshly prepared meal on Fridays, or not serving a Friday lunch at all, executive director Evelyn Havksjold said Monday. If those measures are not enough, Friday hours may have to be reduced.
The center is also trying to reduce the cost associated with providing meals for inmates at the Hill County Detention Center.
The problem, Havksjold said, is that costs are up, but senior center revenue isn't. An increase of $75 a month in health insurance premiums for county employees can be covered by a tax increase, but the senior center, which uses the county insurance plan but otherwise operates independently of the county, must cover the difference itself.
Utility costs and gas prices have also whittled away at the center's budget, she said.
The bulk of the center's roughly $1 million annual budget comes from federal and state dollars. The county contributes 1 mill, about $27,000, and helps provide some administrative services.
"It's what is happening in our world today," Havksjold said about the lack of funding increases for seniors. "People don't realize because (seniors) don't complain. You can't get them to complain."
Havksjold traveled to Helena during the legislative session to advocate a nickel tax on soft drinks that would raise funding for senior centers. The measure did not pass, but the Legislature did provide new funding for home-delivered meals and toward care-giving assistance, she said.
If Friday meals are eliminated, Havksjold said, seniors who don't normally get a home-delivered meal can receive one on that day, taking advantage of Meals on Wheels, one of the few budget items that does have an increase this fiscal year.
Havksjold also hopes the center can save money through a new meal plan for inmates.
The senior center provides three meals a day for the jail. For the past few weeks, on a trial basis, the center has been reheating frozen meals rather than preparing meals for lunch and dinner. If the center were to keep providing prepared meals, it would have to ask for more money from the Hill County Sheriff's Office, Havksjold said.
"If you're not doing it to make some money, then why are you doing it?" she said.
A new gas fee charged with grocery delivery, along with an increased cost for employee benefits and utilities, has driven up the cost of providing meals, Havksjold said.
The Sheriff's Office pays the center $10.50 per meal, Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said Monday. He said he is happy with the frozen meals that are being provided on a trial basis.
Havksjold said she has heard the inmates prefer the TV dinners because they are delivered hotter, in custom-made delivery bags. The portion sizes don't vary from inmate to inmate, which inmates also prefer, she said. In addition, the frozen dinners tend to better accommodate special diets, she said.
The cuts that are made will depend on the results of the questionnaire, which Havksjold said will be available in the center from today until Aug. 30, as well as on word from the federal government regarding funding for the center. Havksjold expects to hear by mid-September how much funding the center will get.
George Patera and Jim O'Leary frequently play pool together with some other friends at the center. The two, who were playing at the center last week, said they didn't know how much the proposed changes would affect them.
Patera said he is at the center every day of the week besides Friday. O'Leary said he comes in on Fridays as well and sometimes stays for lunch.