A Letter to the Ashland City Council That Deserves Some Answers From Them! – Senior Center Questions

While I thank Councilors Seffinger and Darrow for responding to my concerns for Ashland’s now and future seniors and elders, I remain without much hope that an ad hoc committee can undo what is essentially a transformation of a cost, staff, and user-efficient, successful, goal-effective Senior Center into a problematic Senior Recreation Program. This transformation was begun with the drastic firing of staff and continues with a Providence health presentation being scheduled for the inconvenient-to-access Grove.
And so my attention is directed, and the Council’s should be as well, to the proposed, Commission approved “reorganization” plan and how it came to be.
Director Black has said that the plan developed from pressure put on Parks and Recreation due to city budget problems; a 2016 performance audit which showed an underutilized Senior Center; and the example of Bend’s Senior Center, which has lower age requirements and a travel program for increased income. Director Black is a clever man, but unfortunately he used duplicitous language to imply that there was a need to “reorganize” the Senior Center. There wasn’t one.
1. The budget problem is a citywide difficulty that requires citywide financial process auditing in order to develop a citywide solution. A program that has already been subjected to budget cuts that not only remains successful but also comes in under budget does not call for reorganization—it should get a medal.
2. The 2016 audit (pp 51-55) lists four groups of Ashland citizens that were underserved by Parks and Recreation activities: Group 3 (baby boomers) and Group 4 (seniors and elders). So, for each group the auditors provided a separate list of age-appropriate activities which could augment the sparsity of offered activities. Their suggestions reflect a recognition of the differing needs and capabilities of the two distinctly different life stages those two groups represent. For the “reorganization” plan to merge Groups 3 and 4 makes zero sense and is something that was not recommended—indeed was contrary to—the audit.
3. Bend has two Senior Centers. One is comparable to what Ashland had—a social service aid program in an easily accessed center that welcomes all seniors (age 60 and up) who want help to live the remainder of their lives in healthier, potentially lengthier, and more satisfying manner than they can manage on their own. Director Black’s misrepresentation must refer to Bend’s Recreation Center, a non-profit corporation for all citizens and visitors ages 3 and up, located on an extremely large campus. From this, the city receives no money. One of its divisions (for ages 19-80+) is located in the Senior Center building, and comprises three distinct recreation programs: Adult (19-59); Seniors (60-79); Honored Citizens (80+). Access is attained through the purchase of a pass, with each tier having a different base price (Adult being more expensive; Honored Citizens, least). Members can register for additional activities outside their tier; this usually involves an additional fee and, if more physically demanding, requires physician consent. The point is, Bend recognizes age-related differences between active and aging seniors and provides recreational programs accordingly, geared to the changing capabilities, interests, and needs faced by those different groups. Bend also keeps recreation separate from social services. Ashland Parks and Recreation’s mismanaged reorganization plan does not. Quite possibly, the combining of Groups 3 and 4 could lead to medical and subsequent insurance issues—something Bend avoids by design, and Ashland would have as well, if it had followed the recommendations of the 2016 audit.
Ashland has a budget problem, is busily developing an eldercare problem, and what’s next?
Alice Finley,
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