Commentary: Shabby treatment: Three supervisors need to change thinking on SAAA funding

The Shenandoah Area Agency on the Aging (SAAA) has requested an $83,000 contribution for the fiscal year 2018 budget being processed by the Shenandoah County government.

The way three members of the Board of Supervisors are dealing with this request is inappropriate, hypocritical, and harmful.

In addition to the well-known Meals On Wheels program, SAAA provides in-home services (eating, dressing, bathing, grooming, etc), respite centers for persons with dementia or early-mid stage Alzheimer’s, transportation, long-term care ombudsman, and Medicare insurance counseling.

Although I qualify by age for SAAA’s services, I am blessed to not need them at present.

During last year’s budgeting process, supervisors Cindy Bailey, Marsha Shruntz and Richard Walker declared that they would “eliminate all increases in discretionary funding,” which they did.

Included in that slash and burn operation was a cut of $15,000 from SAAA’s requested $83,000 – a whopping 18 percent reduction. The inconsistency is that the request was not an increase – it was the same amount that SAAA requested, and received, in 2015 and 2016.

In the current version of Shenandoah County’s 2018 budget, that same, arbitrarily reduced $63,000 is allocated for SAAA.

Insight into this harsh treatment of SAAA’s budget request was provided during the March 21 budget workshop, when SAAA Executive Director Cathie Galvin attended to explain the request.

During the discussion on this item, Walker invoked the case of embezzlement by former SAAA Executive Director Helen Cockrell. Cockrell was forced to resign in 2011 and was convicted in 2014. That incident has no relevance to the current need for SAAA’s services for many of our senior citizens, or the manner in which Galvin and the Board of Directors are conducting SAAA’s operations.

Walker also mentioned another incident from years ago, stating that SAAA offered to cut the grass at his mother’s home. Walker said that’s a family responsibility, not SAAA’s. Galvin replied that SAAA no longer provides this service.

Referring to improper actions by a long-departed SAAA official, and a petty personal incident regarding a service no long provided, is an absurd, and irresponsible, basis on which to make a budgetary decision.

This ill-conceived reduction is also fiscally unwise, because local funds are increased eight-fold by other sources funding SAAA, so Shenandoah County’s $15,000 reduction results in a loss of $120,000 in total potential funding.

Supervisors Shruntz and Bailey frequently state that taxes must not be raised because there are so many elderly folks on fixed incomes in our county. Yet, SAAA’s programs and services provide important help to that very segment of our population.

Further, Shenandoah County provides tax exemption for senior citizens and the disabled, as specified in Chapter 146 of the County Code, and, as a matter of current business, the board has proposed making those provisions more generous regarding financial worth and real property.

Shenandoah County’s share of support for the SAAA is larger than the other five jurisdictions it serves because it operates two senior centers here and we have a large number of clients.

Galvin informed me, via telephone, that all the other five jurisdictions in SAAA’s service area are supporting the budget amounts requested of them, with the possible exception of Winchester, which may not be able to support any nonprofit organizations in fiscal year 2018.

The 2020 population projection for our county is 45,800, with 13,200 (29 percent) of them being 60 or older. Clearly, this is not the time to undermine SAAA’s ability to serve our senior citizens, now or in the near future.

I call on Supervisors Walker, Bailey and Shruntz to change their current inappropriate and harmful thinking regarding SAAA’s fiscal year 2018 request and approve the full $83,000.

Dennis Atwood is a Maurertown resident.