WALKER -- The Cass County Board voted Tuesday to transfer the senior transportation program from the Council on Aging to Health, Human and Veterans Services, despite objections from several people.
Volunteer drivers are paid mileage reimbursement to drive people age 60 and older to medical appointments and to shop for household necessities. Recruiting drivers, connecting drivers and riders and administering payments to drivers has been the responsibility until this point of a coordinator the citizen Council on Aging Board hired.
County board action Tuesday eliminated county funding to the Council on Aging, thereby eliminating funding for the council's coordinator employee and transferred coordinator responsibilities and driver reimbursement funding to Health, Human and Veterans Services.
Former Cass County Commissioner Virgil Foster told the board that commissioners began the senior transportation program 30 years ago as a support service to help more people remain in their own homes rather than go to nursing homes.
Many who used to spend winters in nursing homes were able to stay at home year-round because of this program, he said.
The board at that time found the cost for the volunteer driver program much cheaper than paying for nursing home case, Forster said. Nursing home costs have only gone up, he added.
Pat Butler, a volunteer driver and coordinator for drivers in the Longville area, told the board he questions why the board wants to eliminate funding for a person already trained to coordinate the program. Why re-train someone else? he asked.
"If you have something working well, why eliminate it?" he asked.
Board Chair Jim Demgen repeatedly reminded people Tuesday that Cass is looking at $1.5 million in state aid cuts for 2004 and expects to be a half million short without making budget cuts next year. The board, by state law, cannot levy any more than already planned for 2004, he added.
Administrator Robert Yochum said merging Soil and Water Conservation Services with the Environmental Services Department went well in recent years, despite the Soil and Water Conservation Board's early concerns.
He predicted, with oversight from the Council on Aging Transportation Committee, that shifting the transportation program to Health, Human and Veterans Services will go as well.
Demgen assured Butler, if the change does not go well, the board will address it.
The commissioners voted to assign Commissioner Rusty Lilyquist to represent the board in monitoring the transition.
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