The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 2, 2013

Doing more with less

Senior centers must become more efficient

The Tribune-Democrat

— Taxpayers not only locally but all across the nation have sent government officials at all levels strong messages to cut spending and debt.

But when that happens and those spending cuts fall on our domains, they’re not popular.

One recent decision in our area has served as a good example: Cambria County’s majority commissioners voting to shut down the Nanty Glo Senior Center. While unfortunate, the action comes in the wake of state funding cuts to Cambria’s Area Agency on Aging, which operates nine centers countywide.

In explaining the move, the commissioners pointed out that Nanty Glo has the lowest participation in meals of the nine centers and that its rental rate is the highest with the exception of the main facility in Johnstown.

We commend the commissioners for doing their homework. They studied the issue with the help of the Area Agency on Aging and a consultant; they met with Nanty Glo center users to answer questions and take anticipated criticism; and they stuck to their decision. But we especially commend them for not doing something that in past years was all too easy for governments at every level – asking taxpayers to dig even deeper to meet financial challenges.

While we sympathize with the Nanty Glo seniors, we believe they have been given amicable alternatives, at least for the ones who are more mobile. The welcome mats are out for them at centers in nearby Jackson Township and Ebensburg. And with direction from the commissioners, CamTran is working out a schedule for free transportation to either center.

“The last thing that we, as commissioners and management of the AAA services, want to do is close centers and change habit patterns of our seniors,” a Commissioners Corner column appearing in our Sunday newspaper said. “However, in the interest of saving a very important program, we regretfully are forced into closing the Nanty Glo Senior Center.”

We’re also convinced that the remaining centers would do well to look hard at what the Jackson center has done. As an independent facility, it receives no state or federal senior money for its operations. 

“It functions very well. I’m very proud of that,” Jackson Township Manager Dave Hirko told our Kathy Mellott. “Not too many communities have something like this.”

That may change in the years ahead, however.

It’s obvious that senior centers are important in our region, providing meals, recreation and socialization for our older residents. With an aging population, they could become even more important moving forward.

What is also obvious is that taxpayers are already strapped. Unemployment is high. Salaries have stagnated while the cost of living hasn’t. What hasn’t gone up in price?

The real challenge will be to find ways to keep senior centers operating with less government dollars and without looking to taxpayers to shell out more.

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