“It’s not just about meals,” they explain
The Walker Senior Center serves as a lifeline to those who use it, and the threat of that lifeline being severed caused many seniors to attend Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisor’s meeting in Bridgeport. Those who could not attend wrote letters.
With the County already more than 30 days into its 90 day subcontract with the Eastern Sierra Agency on Aging, governed by Inyo County, the Board must now decide whether or not Mono County wants to continue in subcontractor mode, or whether it should allow ESAAA to simply provide the senior services.
The fear is that if Inyo County, i.e. ESAAA, takes complete control, service standards would be lowered. Currently seniors enjoy freshly cooked meals of “fabulous veggies, meats and homemade breads,” said one senior who attended.
“Bishop could provide meals cheaper, but not to the same standard,” explained Mono County Director of Social Services, Julie Tiede. Currently Mono County’s cost per person, per congregate meal is at least $19.30 while Inyo’s is $8.90. If Inyo were to provide the food for the congregate meals, it would do so by preparing and freezing meals that would be delivered to Walker 2-4 times per month. The meals would be stored and warmed up when needed.
And it’s not just the food that would suffer. Mono County also helps seniors with some transportation, legal services, and limited chores and homemaking tasks.
Yet, it’s not just the help that seniors receive from the County that is important to them.
“We need to make known the human side of it all,” said Marilyn Faust, who uses the Walker Senior Center frequently. “I have been widowed for two years. A friend introduced me to the senior center and it opened up a whole new world.”
Congregating at the center for group meals provides a social aspect that many seniors wouldn’t have otherwise. One senior also pointed to the considerate staff as another important part of going to the center. Often, they sit down with the seniors and share stories and conversation.
The two candidates for the Mono County District 4 runoff this fall, Tim Fesko and Bob Peters, both spoke on the situation. Walker is a large portion of the District 4 constituency.
Fesko claimed that if he had to choose between an airport subsidy and feeding the County’s seniors, it would be a “no brainer.”
“It’s very important to keep the senior services fully funded,” Fesko said. “If we provide an airport subsidy, how can we then look these people in the eyes and take away their social environment?”
Supervisors Hap Hazard and Vikki Bauer both jumped on Fesko for his comments.
“What about the people in the rest of the County,” Hazard asked.
“It’s not as simple as airport subsidy versus seniors,” Bauer added. “It’s our responsibility to keep money flowing and Mammoth is the County’s economic engine. You need to broaden your view.”
Peters faired a little better, simply pointing out that Inyo County was making the process as tough as it could so that perhaps Mono County would opt out. He suggested auditing what Inyo County has done.
“The Board needs to keep its promises to retain services,” said Supervisor Tim Hansen. “We owe these people, they’re taxpayers.”
But Supervisor Hazard said the Board needed to “keep on topic, not emotions.”
“We need to know the numbers,” Hazard said.
Technically, based upon need, Mono County should receive 32% of the state allocated money for the program, and Inyo should receive 68%, according to Tiede, but it’s never played out that way. The highest Mono County has received has been 27.5%, and at the low, it was only receiving 9%, according to Hazard.
Now, Inyo County has presented plans that would provide 10-15% of the state money to Mono County. The County need to augment with additional General Fund dollars if it wanted to continue its services at the same levels.
Supervisor Larry Johnston felt that Mono County should fight to get the 32%, but County Counsel Marshall Rudolph explained that the percentage was not a right.
“Inyo is in the driver’s seat, they have the discretion,” Rudolph said. “It [the 32%] is not a share that we are legally entitled to. Inyo County now decides how to spend the money in this region.”
Still, Hazard and Johnston thought that the County should take a stronger approach.
“When do we stand up for our citizens and file an injunction?” Hazard asked.
“I don’t see that suing is an option,” explained Rudolph.
“We’re up against a wall,” said Supervisor Byng Hunt. “It seems clear that we don’t have a legal case. We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing for the next year.”
Supervisor Bauer took a more conservative approach. “I think we need to get a subcontract set up and then argue,” she said, concerned that by not acting or by being too demanding, Mono County may end up with nothing.
“Do you think we’d be risking the 14% [by playing hardball],” she asked Tiede.
“They may not offer the subcontract deal,” Tiede responded.
The Board voted 3-2 to set up the subcontract with Inyo County. It will review how much it can supplement senior services from the General Fund in budget discussions to be held later this month.