HARVARD -- Council on Aging Senior Services Director Debbie Thompson, accompanied by three council members, and Department of Public Works Director Rich Nota presented their respective departmental budgets to the selectmen at their most recent meeting.
As instructed by the Finance Committee, the COA budgeted out for the next five years, Thompson told the selectmen. The figures include annual raises but no added hours.
But the "true needs" of the council and senior services have gone up, not necessarily because there are more senior citizens in town but because "more seniors are coming to our attention" who need services, Thompson explained.
Last year, 498 seniors used council services one or more times and for a range of reasons, from program participation to flu shots to in-home services and referrals. This year, that number rose to 655. Thompson attributed the uptick, at least in part, to tenants at senior apartment complexes in town, Fox Glove and Bowers.
But Thompson posited that there are more seniors in need out there who are not receiving services, although she may not know who they are.
The primary need now is for more outreach, Thompson said. COA Outreach Coordinator Maria Holland works just 19 hours a week and splits her time with in-house programs.
To get more focus from limited time on the job, Thompson proposes adding five hours a week to the receptionist/MART dispatcher's position. With added hours, she could help out with program coordination "to free up Maria for more direct contact" with seniors outside the office, Thompson explained.
Part of the receptionist's salary is paid by the regional transit agency and an additional $3,800 would cover the added hours she works for the town. Thompson said.
Chairwoman Lucy Wallace asked if the statistics showed how many of the seniors served by the COA live in Devens. Thompson said she's not familiar with Devens as a residential designation and had no such category to refer to.
Wallace suggested that addresses tell the story.
Selectman Ron Ricci offered insight into why that distinction is important. If Devens seniors are on the list of Harvard residents receiving COA services, MassDevelopment should share the cost, he said, noting that the issue came up during the push to develop Vicksburg Square as a residential rental complex with units set aside for seniors and veterans.
The total COA budget request submitted for fiscal 2014 was $109,011, up 4.8 percent from last year, when the requested amount was $104,021. With "offsets" such as the annual formula grant, Mart reimbursement and user fees, the net town cost is lower. In 2012, for example, the total COA budget was $90,640, of which the town's contribution was $71,989. Last year, the town kicked in $76,258. This year, the town-side number is $78,623.
As for service cuts every department was asked to envision, Thompson couldn't come up with any. "It's impossible to imagine cutting anything from the COA budget," she said. The narrative she submitted to the Finance Committee explains why.
In 2013, the budget was $76,603, from which the full-time director, part-time outreach coordinator and the COA's part of the receptionist/MART dispatcher's salary are paid. An army of 140 volunteers help out so that the COA can provide activities, lunches and special programs. But they can only do so much. "However, when it comes to social services outreach, volunteers are not appropriate as support staff," Thompson said.