Three Niagara County nutrition sites to close Jan. 1
During the July 31 legislature meeting, a number of residents expressed their opposition with a letter sent out by Office for the Aging Director Ken Genewick, stating that on Aug. 31, three sites would close.
The closures were a result of a study Genewick conducted to determine which sites were most used and to find ways to “expedite” services and save the taxpayers money.
The sites scheduled for closure are Summit View Place, an apartment complex in Niagara Falls, St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Church in Niagara Falls and the Tuscarora Nation House in Lewiston.
During the community services committee meeting on Monday, Genewick presented the results of the study he conducted and explained why the three sites were targeted.
Niagara County currently has 22 sites, 15 of which serve meals on a daily basis. At those 15 sites, the average daily attendance is anywhere from six to 65 people.
Genewick said compared to other counties the same size, Niagara County has an “over abundance” of sites. He said geographically, there are many sites that are located close to one another, which indirectly affect the turn out.
At Summit View, located less than two miles away is LaSalle Senior Center. Both serve meals five days a week. Summit View averages 15 people a day and LaSalle averages 20. Combined, Genewick said it would create a well-attended site.
“We have a lot of room for growth,” said Genewick. “We want to work to increase attendance.”
For the Tuscarora Nation House, the current attendance averages six per day. There are three sites in a nine-mile radius and Genewick said transportation would be provided.
At St. John’s, there is a site located only a half mile away. He said many of the people that attend St. John’s are currently transported there, so it is just a matter of going a half a mile further.
Legislator Dennis Virtuoso, who was one of the legislators sponsoring the resolution to keep the sites open, questioned Genewick’s authority to close sites without legislative approval.
He said he felt Genewick had gone “rogue” and he has never seen a department head make a decision this big without consulting them first.
Virtuoso also questioned why sites open five-days a week were being targeted and not sites opened only once or twice a month.
Genewick said those sites have large turnouts — Barker averaging 59 a day and Pendleton averaging 48 — and do not have sites in close proximity.
Another issues brought up by Virtuoso was the county has already approved and allotted funding of all the nutrition sites through the end of this year. He asked Genewick why he was choosing to close the sites in August instead of waiting until January.
Genewick’s response was he wanted to be “proactive.”
“If there is an option to save tax payer dollars why wait until next year,” said Genewick. “Changes need to be made.”
According to Genewick the county has to make a 10 percent annual match on the nutrition program and currently, they are making a 33 percent match. Genewick attributed this to the number of sites.
Besides food costs, closing the sites would save money on three program directors and at St. John’s they pay $2,431 a year to use the church facility. In total, Genewick projects the closing of the three sites would save more than $45,000.
As per the contract, Genewick said he was required to give the sites a 60-day notice of their closure, which is why the end of August was selected, because it was 60 days from when the decision was made.
County Manager Jeffrey Glatz said he approved every document and decision Genewick made. He said he knows change is difficult for the elderly, but Niagara County is more “heavily populated with nutrition sites” than most other counties in the state.
Legislator Wm. Keith McNall said he is not “overly enthused” by the reduction of sites, but he was bothered by Virtuoso’s accusations that Genewick was not doing his job. He said he felt they were trying to micro manage and control what a department head does.
“It’s his call to make,” said McNall, reading a description of the job duties for the director of the Office for the Aging.
Legislator Kathryn Lance said at first she did not agree with this decision but now understands they are not telling the elderly they no longer have a place to go to get a hot meal.
“We’re not trying to say, ‘I’m sorry, you’re done,” said Lance. “We’re not leaving them out in the cold. There is a place for them to go. We’re taking them to a place with the same group of people and more.”
The resolution to keep the sites open failed with a vote of five to two.
After the vote, Genewick said he has decided to keep the programs running through the end of the year. He said until then he would work with the sites slated for closure to see if they have any alternative suggestions moving forward.
“I care about the seniors in this county,” said Genewick. “We’re spending too much on this program. We’re not getting antiquate results.”