MEREDITH — Robert Franks, speaking for those who volunteered their services for the Inter-Lakes Senior Center, told the Board of Selectmen yesterday that he was appalled by the recent decision of the Community Action Program of Belknap —Merrimack Counties, Inc. (CAP) to close the center and pressed the board to support its revival.
Since 2006, CAP has rented space and use of the kitchen at the Community Center between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, when activities are offered to seniors, including a congregate meal.
In a prepared statement, issued last week, the agency explained that it was "faced with making this very difficult decision due to rising costs and funding reductions." Later Pam Jolivett, director of elder services, said that as pressures on its funding have mounted the agency reviews the costs and utilization of all its cost centers, including its 10 senior centers. She said that the agency "deeply regretted its decision and offered its "sincere appreciation" to the volunteers, civic groups, businesses and town officials whose contributions ensured the success of the center for so many years.
When the board met yesterday, Selectman Peter Brothers said that the issue was first first broached last September as the board began the 2014 budget process. CAP approached the board with a request to lower the annual rent for the Community Center from $14,400 to $8,000. He said that after much deliberation, the board agreed to reduce the rent to $12,000.
"We regret that CAP made the decision they felt they had to make," Brothers said. "It wasn't a decision that we made. We tried to do our level best."
Franks said that volunteers were told by officials from Concord "we can't afford this anymore" and that senior citizens from Meredith were welcome to share a congregate luncheon at the Laconia Senior Center. "Why should the people of Meredith have to go to Laconia?" he asked. "What happens to the seniors of Meredith who want to get together?"
Franks proposed arranging for meals to be prepared and served at the Community Center by local volunteers, noting that they would be able to offer a luncheon superior to the "institutional food" provided by CAP, which was prepared in Concord and warmed up in Meredith. He stressed that the program would be operated by Meredith volunteers for Meredith seniors.
Brothers said that he was "disappointed" and interested in considering a proposal. He explained that the town provides financial support to a number of non-profit agencies, about half of which serve seniors in different ways. He suggested that Franks and his group frame a formal proposal with a business model and "go through the same process as other outside agencies. I'm willing to listen," he continued, but I also want you to understand that we didn't shut down the program."
"Is the board willing to step up to the plate to do the things that need to be done?" Franks asked.
Jim Hughes, a former selectman who championed the construction of the Community Center, asked "if it is a Meredith program for Meredith residents, what would be the rent?"
Carla Horne, who chairs the board, replied "that's another discussion" and encouraged Franks and his group to prepare a proposal and return to the board. "I'm sure we can work something out," she said.
"To be continued," remarked Selectman Nate Torr.