2018-04-19 / Front Page

Officials want to keep Age Friendly Saco

By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer

SACO – Age Friendly Saco is trying to secure funds to continue with its AARP-endorsed efforts to help the over-65 population pursue an active lifestyle within their community.

Age Friendly Saco was part of an initiative in 2016 to make the community more accommodating for people of all ages and is working on a proposal to restructure the budget to allocate funds to the program without costing taxpayers additional money.

In last year’s budget, a $5,000 allowance was factored in for the Age Friendly Saco program. In the proposed fiscal year 2018- 2019 budget, with no funds allocated, program officials are proposing a solution to keep the program funded without using any additional tax revenue.

In the proposed budget, there is a $10,000 stipend to be used for the senior program coordinator position, currently held by Mary Starr. According to Ron Michaud, former mayor of Saco and vice-chairman of the Age Friendly board, the new request to be put forward to the council will involve allocating the funds set aside for the senior program coordinator position to Age Friendly, allowing the board to take on the responsibility of coordinating volunteers and using the funds for its programming. This, Michaud said, will allow the city to use the funds more efficiently. Michaud initially proposed the Age Friendly program and when his mayoral term was completed, the board “drafted him,” he said.

If the council approves this proposal, Age Friendly will absorb the responsibilities of the senior program coordinator and will effectively eliminate the position. In the past the coordinator has facilitated senior volunteers who will work for a $750 credit toward their Saco property taxes. To qualify for this senior tax relief program, volunteers must be at least 60 years old and own their own home and reside in it. Volunteer opportunities exist throughout municipal offices, such as the school and public works departments, and also at the Age Friendly program.

“This doesn’t cost the community anything,” Michaud said. “If you can save more money, then that’s the hope.”

Lobbying for this change is Ward 5 Councilor Alan Minthorn.

“It’s a higher utilization of funds,” Minthorn said. “Age Friendly mans their desk daily. I think they could do a lot to stretch those dollars.”

The position of senior program coordinator was previously a paid volunteer position, which meant the person in the position received tax abatement instead of a wage. When former coordinator Mary Pelkey retired last year, the position transitioned to a paid position, a move that Minthorn said was done by the city manager without council knowledge. The position currently has a desk at the parks and recreation department. Starr could not be reached for comment due to spring break.

“I hope that once we make it through budget season we can work on updating policy and multiple charter amendments,” Minthorn said.

When asked about this proposed change, City Administrator Kevin Sutherland said he has recommended that the city provide the additional funds for Age Friendly Saco without dismantling the system in place.

“On March 19, I brought my suggested budget to council. From that point on, it’s the council’s budget,” Sutherland said, “It’s ultimately their decision.”

In January 2016, one of the Saco City Council’s annual goals was, “To actively seek an AARP grant that would assist in the development of a plan to make Saco an Age- Friendly Community.” In the city at the time, an estimated 24 percent of the population of Saco was over the age of 60. Implementing the program included endeavors to ensure that the senior community had access to transportation, affordable housing and health care.

Since its inception June 2016, Age Friendly has run community events and programs to aid members of the community. Over the winter, Age Friendly offered discounted rates at the Hampton Inn in the event of a power loss, as well as “Sand Buckets for Seniors,” a program that collaborated with the Saco Public Works Department to deliver 5-gallon buckets of a sand-salt mixture for any homebound resident over 65 who was in need.

Age Friendly is also working to make “Knox Boxes”more affordable and available to seniors in collaboration with Dupuis Hardware in Biddeford and Saco Fire Department. A “Knox Box” is a small container placed on the outside of the resident’s door with a house key in it. The box can only be opened by the fire department and would allow easier and faster entry without damaging the door.

The proposal is scheduled to be brought before city council on Monday, April 30.

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