CAMBRIDGE – Times are tough all around, and they could get tougher for local senior citizens, the disabled and the general public following the Dorchester County commissioners’ 4-1 rejection of a funding compromise offered by Delmarva Community Services, Inc.
Leaders of the non-profit agency, employer of 200 local residents, were seeking a way to stretch limited funds to serve seniors, especially those at a small South Dorchester satellite program, while keeping its fleet of 70 buses on the road. The decision came during the councilmen’s July 3 meeting.
Councilman Rick Travers (District 3) cast the sole vote for compromise. Rejection of the compromise means the county government no longer provides matching funds needed to leverage state and federal grant money necessary to keep the award-winning public transportation system operating.
The compromise was specified by DCS President/CEO Santo Grande in a June 27 letter to County Manager Jane Baynard. Mr. Grande wrote, “Since our agency must have [county] matching cash funds to draw down Public Transportation Section 5311, we are requesting that $15,000 be allocated to assist with opening our South Dorchester satellite program two days per month or every other Wednesday…The balance of $50,507 would be committed to the required matching funds for public transportation.”
Councilmen who voted to reject the compromise were Jay Newcomb (District 1), William V. Nichols (District 2), Rick Price (District 4) and Tom Bradshaw (District 5).
Delmarva Community Transit, a branch of Delmarva Community Services, Inc. (DCS) was named the best rural transportation system in the nation in 2007 by the Community Transportation Association of America. Thousands of county residents depend on the routes to take them to their jobs, doctor’s offices and pharmacies, as well as to buy groceries and other necessities.
The buses completed more than 200,000 passenger trips in Dorchester in 2011. All are equipped with wheelchair lifts. The transit system is an integral part of the organization’s wide-ranging programs, which serve senior citizens, the general public, veterans, individuals living in poverty, the developmentally disabled and the Spanish-speaking community.
The council has linked its funding to DCS with last year’s closing of South Dorchester’s Golden Hill satellite program for seniors, which served about 20 individuals. In a letter from County Manager Jane Baynard signed by Councilman Jay Newcomb to Mr. Grande dated June 22, Mr. Newcomb wrote, “I am writing on behalf of the County Council of Dorchester County regarding the fiscal year 2012-2013 budget…In particular, we would like to receive notification as to when the Golden Hill Center will reopen based on this FY funding.”
DCS runs senior centers in Hurlock and Cambridge, both of which are open to all county seniors. Both operate primarily on state money. Following Hurricane Irene in 2009, DCS leaders recognized a need for a center in South Dorchester, and began a program there, paying for it from DCS’ own limited funds.
In fiscal year 2010, the Dorchester County Council contributed $131,013 to DCS’ operations. In fiscal 2011, this was cut to $65,507, despite warnings from DCS that this would adversely affect programs – though DCS receives funds from a variety of sources, virtually all of it is restricted for specified uses and cannot be transferred.
DCS was then forced to reduce its senior centers’ operations to three days a week, though the schedule was staggered in such a way between Hurlock and Cambridge that service could still be offered to all the county’s seniors four days a week. There was no way, however, for DCS to maintain the South Dorchester satellite program out of its own pocket, and the organization withdrew its meal service and single staff member.
In deliberations for the fiscal year 2012-2013 budget, the councilmen specified $15,000 each for the Hurlock and Cambridge senior centers, with another $15,000 for the Golden Hill satellite, and $20,507 marked for medical transportation. An additional $32,201 will go to developmental disabilities services.
By specifying how the funds are to be used – something the council had not done in previous years – the councilmen prevented DCS leaders from using $65,000 as they had in the past, to leverage state and federal funds for transportation, as required by law.
In a letter to a local newspaper, DCS Board of Directors Chairperson William Batson wrote, “Because of our decision to reduce service days to our senior centers, the council made a hasty decision to earmark future allocations for senior center services only, thus leaving other programs like transportation and services to the homeless and people in poverty without county support. Such earmarking also affects seniors needing transportation and home-delivered meals. In other words, the council will give us half the usual funding and then tell us how to spend the money without a clear understanding as to how we prioritize the services to meet the most critical needs.”
Former news reporter and writer, Dave Ryan works with Delmarva Community Services, Inc. in Marketing and Travel Training Services.