By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The North Central Senior Citizens Center will have to cut some services, and the Hill County Health Department may be next as both budgets stretch tight.
The entities rely largely on grants, and fewer are available, Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said.
The grants the senior center receives have not increased this year, said Evelyn Havksjold, senior center executive director. At the same time, employee health insurance, gasoline, food and utility costs have risen.
The center relies on grants for the majority of its $1 million yearly budget. Only 3.5 percent of its budget comes from county taxes, though Havksjold said the center gets administrative support from the county.
Representatives of the senior center will meet with the commissioners and the county attorney soon to discuss cuts, she said. The date for the meeting has not been set.
Havksjold still hopes there will be a chance to forestall cuts, by way of a last-minute grant. If cuts do occur, options include cutting back hours on Friday afternoon, as well as cutting some positions and services.
"When we have a problem ... we all share in the cut," she said.
Bill Chambers and Ernie Hofmann were playing pool with friends in the senior center this morning. Both said a cutback on hours Friday afternoon would not affect them.
They wanted to know what positions or services would be cut. Once that decision is made, Hofmann said, then people would start to voice their objections.
The senior center has had to dip into its reserves this fiscal year to keep up with rising costs. The state requires that all county entities keep a minimum amount in a reserve fund and the senior center can't dip any further into it, Havksjold said.
Havksjold hopes for relief from the Legislature this year in the form of a nickel tax on soft drinks. The bill is called Nickels for Moms and Pops, and if passed, would open up more slots for seniors who need home health care, as well as increase funds for other senior services. It would also create a trust that would provide funds for Montana's aging population, she said.
Seniors themselves are facing greater obstacles, said Toni Hagener, chair of the Council on Aging, which oversees the senior center.
"Montana's population is aging, particularly along the Hi-Line," she said. "Their income is not going up, but costs for health care are going up."
The Hill County Health Department is facing future budget cuts, said Cindy Smith, county nurse and Health Department administrator. A federal grant that funds a nurse to help needy pregnant women and young children will run out in June. The end of the grant could mean losing that nurse's position, Smith said.
With similar problems, the senior center and the Health Department have worked together to share some staffing. Soon the five nurses and one social worker employed at the senior center will help out the Health Department, Havksjold said.
The Health Department's seven nurses - some of whom work in family planning or the WIC office - could be used at the senior center, Smith said.
But that is only a start.
"We can't do it all with what we've got," Smith said. "We're facing some of the same battles" as the senior center. "What I would like to see (the county commissioners) do is make a strategic plan for where they want the Health Department to go and to let people know that sometimes the services are in jeopardy."
Health Department services include immunizations, home health visits, communicable disease research, evaluation of student inoculation records, and food inspection.
"I'd like to see people in the community say which services they need," Smith said.
On Tuesday the Health Department will host a public forum to discuss whether the county would benefit from a community health center. The department would apply for a Healthy Communities Access Planning Grant to pay for it if the community wants it, Smith said. The meeting will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Holiday Village Shopping Center community room.