LOCKPORT – The plan to close three Niagara County senior citizen nutrition sites may be altered as part of the 2013 county budget.
Office of the Aging Director Kenneth M. Genewick said after Tuesday’s public hearing on the budget that the three sites that were going to be closed completely as of Jan. 1 may now be kept open three days a week.
Rev. Bruce Points, pastor of St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Church in Niagara Falls, one of the affected sites, said Genewick at first offered to keep the service open five days a week in exchange for the church giving up the annual $2,431 in rent the county pays.
“That’s not a discussion we ever had,” Genewick said.
Points charged that Genewick then cut his offer to three days because his positions were being dictated by the Legislature’s GOP majority. “It’s not really him. He’s a pawn in this and he’s being used,” Points said.
Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, denied that.
“I’d believe a reverend before I’d believe a politician,” commented Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls.
“I think five days a week is sufficient,” said Legislator Owen T. Steed, whose district includes St. John’s. “It’s fair if everyone takes a cut.”
But Genewick’s proposal, upheld by a Legislature committee in August, was to close the three least-attended of the 23 lunch sites: St. John’s, Summit View Apartments in Wheatfield and the Tuscarora Nation House on the reservation.
Tuesday, Genewick said the three-day plan would enable him to cut a vacant part-time nutrition services assistant job, saving $12,000 plus benefits.
Points said during the hearing, “It is always unfair to balance a budget on the backs of the weakest members of a community. It is always unfair to balance a budget on those who can’t fight back.”
“We’ve been spending more than the state allocates [for the nutrition program],” County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said. “It’s not like we’re not spending money on seniors.”
Genewick said efforts will be made to expand other county services at the sites, but if his department’s budget passes unchanged on Dec. 18, lunches will be available Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at St. John’s; Monday, Tuesday and Friday at Summit View; and Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Tuscarora.
Genewick said the Office for the Aging will offer free van service to the John A. Duke Senior Center on Hyde Park Boulevard on the off days. “If [the customers] are eligible, we could offer home-delivered meals,” he said.
Meanwhile, William Rutland, president of Local 182, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, denounced the proposed budget for omitting annual “step increases” for members of his blue-collar union for the second consecutive year.
“These dedicated workers will continue to come to work every day for the public who trusts them, regardless of the betrayal of this budget once again,” Rutland said.
The $321.9 million spending plan contains a 3.7 percent increase in the property tax levy despite the elimination of 40 jobs, 14 of them filled. Those jobs are in non-mandated health programs for jail inmates and for home-bound seniors, both of which are being privatized.
“The county manager’s proposed [tax] rate is not acceptable, and we will reduce it,” Updegrove said, but details will be worked out in the next two weeks.
Virtuoso said the Democrats want to avoid any tax increase.