No Winners in This Battle
Recent events have been used to portray the county commissioners as not caring about seniors or small towns. Why should the truth get in the way of a good story?
Long and short, the Town of Thurmont, its Senior Center, numerous community members, and the Department of Aging have pushed the county into a corner – forcing them to decide on current and future funding. While the quality of the food served at this facility was presented as the driving factor, it seems that government involvement was the real issue.
Having spoken to a number of primary players, (Thurmont Mayor Martin Burns, County Commissioner Kirby Delauter, and local Thurmont resident John Kinnaird) it is worth a couple of particulars. For instance, the previous Board of County Commissioners wanted Thurmont to hand over the physical building to the county. What a preposterous request! Thurmont came back with a counter offer of a huge rental fee for the county to use this facility. Equally preposterous!
Rather than outline the sniping, let’s cut to the quick. Grant funding for the facility comes through the county, yet the rules, (like requirements for nutrition) come from the state and federal agencies. Hence, to blame the county is a red herring. In other words, the county is an easy mark since it writes the check; but in truth, they have their hands tied by big government requirements.
For instance, the food for this facility was once provided by the school system. As the school system provides a huge number of meals, this sounds like a win-win scenario. Problem is that the current requirements are such that a school meal does not meet the standards for a senior meal. How ironic!
As noted by Mayor Burns, the Thurmont Senior Center used to have “potluck” meals, but due to the plethora of rules surrounding grant money, something as simple as this is not an option. Another idiotic requirement of taking these grant dollars, this facility could not even allow a Girl Scout meeting on site. Our “nanny government” at work – one size fits all and we, (the government) know best.
So, how did this happen? Long and short, it was a handful of vocal members, (as well as some elected representatives) that were fed up with all these regulations. That is very understandable. But, the devil is in the details. How does one transition from foolish government regulations to providing a public service that truly benefits people in need. Keep in mind, this is not a new program – the dependency on government funding already existed. It is this transition which requires wise decisions.
First, there must be discussion among the primary players. Realistically, this was initiated. The county’s Department of Aging presented fours options for transition: 1.] Continue with the status quo; 2.] Reduce county involvement, (The county would reduce staff by 50% including transportation and staffing, but continue grant funding for food); 3.] County would discontinue its presence and pass through grant money for food – home delivery service would be handled by Emmitsburg and the existing Memorandum of Understanding would be discontinued; 4] Cease county funding and connection.
While Mayor Burns was not present when the Thurmont Board of Commissioners discussed these options, the general perception was that they were not acceptable – remember that grant funding comes with many strings attached. Hence, working out an acceptable compromise is very limited. Strong talk during a meeting may play well to a constituency, but at the end of the day, people must work out a viable compromise.
This brings us to the county commissioners meeting on the topic. Numerous speakers came to the podium. Numerous comments were made from the audience during this process – fortunately, the commissioners’ president held people in check.
While this meeting was presented as a last minute decision, in truth it was postponed on the commissioners’ agenda. In other words, it was known for a good week or so that this topic would come about. Some blame the Department of Aging for pressing the county commissioners to cut funding. But(!), none of the people involved in this decision faults the commissioners.
As noted, the strife between the Thurmont Senior Center and the Department of Aging goes back years and years. Many people involved believe there cannot be any resolution. It was also noted that since the Senior Center is a 501(c)(3), outside funding can come from many sources.
Long and short, Mayor Burns, along with Commissioner Delauter, noted “be careful what you ask for – you may get it.” While shrinking government is a necessary endeavor, how one goes about weaning oneself off the public teat should not be knee-jerk! The county commissioners will still help with funding for food and delivery to shut-ins.
The bottom-line is this: while this is a laudable effort, no one is happy with the status quo. Changing that status quo is good and necessary, but how that change occurs requires people to step back and leave their emotions at the door.