In Dorchester alone last year, nearly 200,000 rides were completed. In a June 22 letter to DCS, Council President Jay Newcomb wrote, “…we would like to receive notification as to when the Golden Hill Center will reopen based on this fiscal year funding.”
Dorchester County’s level of support for DCS’ transit and care for the aging is well below that of the three other counties served by the agency. Dorchester’s allocation this year to transportation is $20,507, with $45,000 going to the senior centers. According their websites, Talbot this year is allocating $90,500 to transportation and $163,155 to the senior center; Caroline has $75,000 for transportation and $46,362 to the senior center; and Kent has $94,419 for transportation and $100,804 to the senior center.
In relation to their total budgets, this represents .12 percent for Dorchester; .36 percent for Talbot; .29 percent for Caroline; and .46 percent for Kent. The council cut support to DCS in fiscal 2011 by 50 percent, forcing the non-profit agency to reduce its Cambridge and Hurlock senior center operations to three days a week each. There was no money, however, to run the South Dorchester satellite, which up to that point had been funded solely by DCS. Meal service and a single staffer were subsequently withdrawn from the satellite.
On July 3, the council rejected DCS’ compromise offer of reopening the site for two days a month. At that meeting, Councilman Rick Travers cast the only vote for compromise. In the current fiscal year, the council has divided its $65,507 contribution, specifying $15,000 each for the two senior centers and for the satellite. The remaining $20,507 would go to fund medical transportation.
By specifying the use of the funds, however, the county has prevented DCS from using the money to leverage matching state and federal grants critical to the continued operation of the entire transportation system. “We needed to put the bulk of the money into transit,” DCS President/CEO Santo Grande said.
DCS Finance Director Cathy Frey said, “This designation of $15,000 for each site removes our flexibility.” Councilman Newcomb questioned the original decision to withdraw all support to the satellite, saying “It’s just so hard to cut the seniors.”
Seniors from the program told the councilmen that they very much looked forward to attending the meetings once again with DCS support. They continue to gather periodically at the site, provided by a local church.
On Tuesday, Mr. Grande presented DCS’ most recent compromise offer, stated in a July 13 letter to County Manager Jane Baynard. Mr. Grande wrote, “Our agency is willing to provide three days per month service to the DCS, Inc. South Dorchester satellite program during the months of September through May, (nine months). I would again like to remind you that the service during the summer is very difficult to provide because of a shortage of staff due to vacations, the cost of fuel and food. This compromise supplants our original desire to serve South Dorchester only two days per month for twelve months. I believe this proposal is significantly different and very generous in lieu of our original proposal to eliminate service to South Dorchester. Please remember that the key to quality senior services to the seniors of Dorchester County is the ability to provide them with safe and reliable transportation.”
Nancy Hastings of the South Dorchester Good Neighbor Project suggested that DCS offer 42 days a year, possibly with no hot lunch as a means of cutting expenses. Mr. Grande pointed out that meal service is an integral part of senior services. After more than an hour of sometimes vigorous discussion, Councilman Travers supported the 42-day plan, adding, “I feel like we’re much closer than we have been.”
“If we don’t get this worked out, you don’t get the money you need, you don’t get transportation, nobody gets where they need to go,” he said. Councilman William Nichols called for compromise while noting that the county has had its own state funding drastically reduced. “We’re going to have to meet in the middle,” he said. “We lost $4 million on a $54 million budget.”
He also cited the cost of teachers’ pensions and an impending drop in tax revenue following what he expects to be lower state property assessments. “If everybody thinks it’s bad now, wait until next year,” he said. “I’m not crying, I’m telling you how it is.” Council members and DCS officials agreed to discuss the issue further prior to the council’s next meeting on Sept. 4.