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This is inopportune time to be shutting down our Senior Center

  • Published in Letters

To The Daily Sun,

I have been following the news regarding the Meredith Senior Center with considerable interest. I am one of those Meredith taxpayers and voters who hopes that the presence of the Senior Program in the Meredith Community Center can yet be sustained.

It appears that the future of the Meredith Senior Center has been jeopardized by the inability of CAP and the Meredith Selectboard to reach agreement on a reduced rental fee. At the Oct. 21, 2013, Selectboard workshop, CAP stated that it had lost federal and United Way funding, hence the need for reduction in rent. According to The Laconia Daily Sun's April 24 article on the Senior Center, CAP proposed that rent be reduced from $1,200 a month ($14,400 a year) to $600 a month ($7,200 a year), and the Selectboard responded with an $800 a month ($9,600 a year) offer. The Daily Sun's May 6 article on the same subject gave somewhat different figures: Current annual cost = $14,400, CAP's proposal = $8,000, Selectboard's counter-proposal = $12,000. I gather that the Selectboard's offer was not acceptable to CAP, thus they decided to close the Senior Center.

Regardless of what the true numbers are, I wonder why the negotiation seems to have been aborted without further attempt to reach compromise. Both parties have valued the Meredith Senior Center. I doubt that the Selectboard's proposal was a take-it-or-leave-it offer. Perhaps the board expected CAP to continue the dialogue if necessary, and selectmen were as surprised as the public was by CAP's decision to close the Senior Center. I hope the discussion will be reopened by the parties. Dickering is as American as apple pie and motherhood.

I appreciate the initiative Robert Franks has expressed regarding volunteers serving senior lunches, but I believe the Senior Center will have a stronger future if administered by CAP. Should the Town of Meredith require a volunteer program to pay a rental fee, where will those funds come from, and how sustainable will they be year-to-year? We don't want a Gilmanton Year-Round Library brouhaha to unfold here in Meredith.

As it stands now, the Town of Meredith will lose $14,400 in annual revenue if the CAP-sponsored Senior Center is terminated. If the Community Center building is closed Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the school year, there will be some cost savings, but the town's budget will still take a significant hit from loss of the Senior Program. Closure of the Community Center during those hours would be a loss to Meredith residents.

When the Senior Program moved to the Community Center, it was a vibrant program with able and charismatic leadership. The relocation of the Senior Program was one of the selling points for the funding of the Community Center, which seniors supported. The space was designed to accommodate the Senior Center, and it was anticipated that the Senior Program would be housed there indefinitely. I believe it is one of the finest Senior facilities in New Hampshire. I was elected to Meredith's Selectboard the year that voters approved the Community Center warrant article, and I served on the board while the center was constructed. I distinctly recall that some of the interior space was designed for optimal use by the Senior Center.

At the 10/21/2013 Selectboard workshop, CAP reported that the number of lunches served daily by the Meredith Senior Center had decreased from an average of 58 to 12 within the past year. Assuming that the quality of the food had not significantly deteriorated, the most likely explanation for this is a decline in leadership. That is regrettable, if true.

Considering that the leading edge of the Baby Boom tidal wave has crested age 65, this is a most inopportune time to be shutting down a Senior Center. This vastly increased senior population will impact all aspects of American society. The Town of Meredith is as unprepared for this senior explosion as all municipalities in the United States are. But because Meredith, like many Lakes Region towns, is a retirement destination community, the effect of aging Baby Boomers will be felt more intensely here.

Some of the consequences, such as an insufficient number of doctors, hospital beds, and assisted living facilities. are predictable. Reduced Social Security and Medicare benefits seem probable. As these seniors move money from growth funds to lower risk securities, there could be profound impact to investment funds, the stock market, and seniors' net worth.

Those seniors who remain affluent enough to pay for some degree of in-home care may encounter a shortage of hirable workers due to an insufficient workforce. Meredith will be competing with other localities for those workers, who are much more likely to live in Ashland, Bristol, Tilton, and Laconia because housing is cheaper there. Because seniors' life expectancies have increased, and because there will be so many more widows and widowers than ever before, there will be a need for those workers. As it stands now, Meredith will not be able to provide for itself in this regard.

A vibrant Senior Center with forward-thinking leadership can help Meredith prepare for this impending future. Many wonderful things can be accomplished by a Senior Center, in addition to serving nutritious lunches and offering fitness classes. Even as bodies deteriorate, minds can stay keen and productive, and seniors can experience rewarding fulfillment to their dying breath with encouragement and imagination.

By intending to serve all ages of people and bring them together under one roof, the Meredith Community Center embraced a priceless vision of community. The elderly are at considerable risk of age segregation. But most elderly people want to stay involved with younger folks because of their youthful optimism and the future they represent. The Community Center is a natural way to bring old and young together. The Senior Program can facilitate this and all the other objectives I have mentioned. Thus I hope that CAP and the Meredith Selectboard will resume discussion of how to perpetuate the Meredith Senior Center.

Peter Miller