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Senior meals program safe

The threatened end of Oak Harbor Senior Center’s meals program won’t happen for at least another year.

In an act of generosity, two individuals combined to give $6,000 to keep meal service at the Senior Center operational through July.

Oak Harbor was at risk of losing its congregational meal site, which costs approximately $40,000 annually to operate, said Mike McIntyre, director of Island County Senior Services.

“The last people who want to close something down is us,” he said.

At Friday’s lunch, diners at the Oak Harbor Senior Center applauded the news that the program was safe for another year.

“That’s wonderful, that’s truly wonderful,” Janet Claus said.

The meal sites are not so much about the food as giving seniors a chance to socialize and revel in other’s company, diner Richard Fuller said.

“I can eat at home, but I have all these friends here,” Fuller said with a sweeping arm gesture.

The threat of the program’s loss had riled a few of the people who frequent the meals. James Allen, Sr. said it was one more way that senior citizens are treated poorly.

“Whenever something comes up that something has to be cut, it’s the seniors that get it,” Allen said.

In addition to the new money that has been donated, Island County is also putting $2,500 toward keeping the Oak Harbor senior meal service at its current level.

Tuesday, the Oak Harbor City Council agreed to contribute an additional $2,500 to the program for 2005, which brings the city’s total contribution to $18,000.

With the city’s share, Senior Services will be ahead by $1,000. One man donated $5,000, a woman gave $1,000 and the county contributions of $2,500 combined with the city’s $2,500, for an $11,000 total.

The agency’s board of directors had previously voted to keep the site open for an additional six months as a result of the private donations. The additional $5,000 will keep the site open for 2005, McIntyre said.

“It’s great to be able to continue the service,” McIntyre said.

Mismanagement alleged

City Councilman Larry Eaton originally made a motion to contribute $10,000 in city funds for the meals program. He contended that the city hasn’t increased its funding of the meals program for 10 years and he argued that it’s time to do so.

“I’m a little concerned that we are not stepping up to the plate,” he said.

Councilman Richard Davis, on the other hand, said he wanted to wait to contribute more to the program. He said he was concerned about the accounting practices of the organization. He said Senior Services was changing directors and the current director was “keeping accounting obscure.”

Davis pointed to Senior Services’ new thrift store in Freeland as the cause of the fiscal problems. “As far as we can tell, a lot of the deficit ... or all of the deficit comes from the thrift store,” he said.

Eaton shot back at Davis. “Everything you said is incorrect,” he said. “It’s absolutely incorrect.”

Eaton said the organization’s books are open and that the thrift store is “generating a tremendous amount of money.”

The store is indeed making money. According to the agency’s 2005 budget, the store was projected to net approximately $60,000 in profits for 2004, which was below the original estimate of $89,793. The store has yet to reach its full earning potential, as the agency is still paying for the building to the tune of approximately $136,000 in 2004.

In the end, Eaton’s motion to contribute $10,000 to the program was overridden by an amendment to give only $2,500 next year. Only Eaton voted against the amendment.

City mulls food service

Oak Harbor Senior Center Administrator Howard Thomas said that as early as next March, the city will consider letting its funding for the county’s food program lapse and instituting a city-run program at the Oak Harbor center.

“I want it if I am given the resources to do it right,” Thomas said. “If I’m going to be hampered in an ability to do it right, I don’t want it, but my bottom line will be that people will get fed.”

Thomas said that cities such as Kent are able to turn a profit on their food programs. Island County’s federal aid contracts prohibit that, he said.

If he were to take over the food program, Thomas said he would hire a cook and seek a cheaper provider of the actual food. The way that Senior Services runs the Oak Harbor program could be more efficient, he said.

“It certainly is a way to feed people,” Thomas said. “I don’t know that I would call it the best way to do it.”

Thomas said he is not yet ready to accept the burden of the program. He said he is not sure how cost effective it would be, but with Island County’s growing senior population, the market is definitely there.

News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland contributed to this report.

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