Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Three county-operated congregate dining sites for senior citizens will be closed at the end of the year.
Closing the sites, on the western end of the county, will save $48,000 on the county tax levy, Kenneth M. Genewick, director of the Niagara County Office for the Aging, said Tuesday.
The targeted sites are at St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Church in Niagara Falls, the Summit View apartments in Wheatfield and the Tuscarora Nation House on the reservation. Average attendance at each site is well below the countywide average, according to OFA records.
Savings will come from eliminating the jobs of three part-time site directors.
Genewick’s decision to close 3 of the county’s 22 congregate dining sites is driven by budget imperatives. In advance of an expected directive by County Manager Jeffrey Glatz to all department heads to propose 2013 budgets that come in under their 2012 numbers, Genewick said he’s been examining all Aging programs with an eye on cutting costs without cutting services for seniors.
Congregate dining sites are places where senior citizens gather for meals and organized social activities, on a daily, weekly or bimonthly basis depending on the site.
Genewick is casting the three closings as “site mergers,” since other congregate dining sites are nearby and OFA is already providing van transportation service for senior diners who don’t drive.
St. John’s is less than a half-mile from another site; Summit View is within 1 /12 miles of another site; and Tuscarora Nation House is within 9 miles of three other sites, Genewick said.
The targeted sites also are among the least-attended sites in Niagara County, OFA records show. Against a countywide average of 28 meals served per site, St. John’s 2011 daily average was 11, Summit View’s was 15 and Tuscarora House’s was 6.
Considering their proximity to other sites, the low numbers “signify they’re competing, if you will, for the same groups of seniors,” Genewick said.
Genewick made the case for site closings to the legislature’s community services committee Monday. He was pressed to explain his reasoning after three Niagara Falls-based legislators last month put up a resolution to block his plan, which originally was going into effect Aug. 31. The resolution was referred to the committee for a recommendation and members rejected it by a 1-5 vote.
“The majority ... voted no because they didn’t want to set precedent,” community services Chairman Tony Nemi, I-Lockport, said. “The fact is a department head has the right to run his department without the legislature interfering with him.”
Genewick’s written analysis of the county’s congregate dining program — which legislature Chairman Bill Ross, C-Wheatfield, described as “top notch” and “hard to argue” — includes some statistics suggesting Niagara overspends on dining sites. It has more sites than most other counties statewide, including counties with larger senior populations. For example, Genewick found, Monroe County has about twice as many seniors but only 18 congregate dining sites to Niagara’s 22.
Also, Niagara County is spending well beyond its required 10 percent minimum “match” on the federally funded program. Currently its match is equivalent to 43 percent.
“Anything more (than 10 percent) is discretionary, and it has to be looked at,” he said. “The goal is not ever to reduce the number of seniors being served by our office, it’s to right-size the configuration (of sites) so we increase efficiency and ensure individuals continue to receive services.”
Genewick originally posted a site closing date of Aug. 31, the earliest he could satisfy a state reporting requirement after deciding closings/mergers were the way to go. He pushed it back to Dec. 31 after feedback from the public, legislators and especially congregate diners over the past month.