COA strains to keep pace

Budget shortages and crumbling facilities are hindering the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging from meeting the needs of the parish’s rapidly growing senior population, Executive Director Tasha Clark-Amar told the Metro Council on Monday night.

Clark-Amar was speaking at the fourth in a series of informative budget meetings, during which representatives of city-parish agencies speak to the council about the budgets proposed for those agencies as part of Mayor-President Kip Holden’s $780-million 2013 budget.

“Seniors are outliving their loved ones, and the only one they have to depend on is us,” Clark-Amar said. “We have a big population of homebound seniors and they depend on us for several things.”

The COA provides 700 hot meals per day at its 19 centers, she said. It also makes 500-600 frozen meals per day that are delivered to homebound seniors as part of the Meals on Wheels program.

Earlier this year, the COA stopped contracting with an outside firm for the meals and began preparing them on their own, COA Finance Director Eva Pratt said.

More seniors began showing up at the centers to eat the meals, she said.

“We went from 280 meals to over 700 meals per day,” she said. “Either we get additional money to pay for the food or we will turn them away. That’s where we are.”

Clark-Amar said the Louisiana Office of Elderly Affairs had set a target of 15 percent of a parish’s seniors to be fed by the local Council on Aging. The East Baton Rouge Council on Aging is currently serving 2.9 percent of the parish’s seniors, she said.

Clark-Amar also said the Florida Boulevard building that houses the council’s offices is badly in need of repair.

She said the roof leaks and wiring is so bad that lights on the second floor of the building can not be turned off. In addition, she said, compressors in the heating and cooling system were broken so the facility had no air conditioner in the summer and could not run heat in the winter.

During the preparation of the 2013 budget, Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, who sits on the COA’s board, asked that $200,000 in additional funds be included the Council on Aging as part of a larger $775,000 budget request that was denied by the mayor’s office.

The budget as proposed by the mayor allocates $876,300 to the Council on Aging, the same amount it received in 2012. However, Holden’s Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel has said he would be willing to work with Collins-Lewis to see if additional funds for the COA could be included in a budget supplement after the first of the year.

Members of the Metro Council agreed the building needs repairs, but said that the COA may have to seek private funding sources.

“I want to reach out to private industry,” Collins-Lewis said. “I don’t have any hard answers for you other than we need to find a way to feed the seniors.”

Councilman Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois said the building needs repairs but said he didn’t see money in the budget to pay for it.

“You have no creature comforts,” he said. “There’s just not going to be enough money.”

Bourgeois, a restaurant owner, asked pointed questions about equipment in the COA’s upgraded kitchen and who supplied the food.

“You are paying way too much for food,” he said. “I have been in the restaurant business for 30 years and you just can’t do it like that.”

Clark-Amar said the COA bid out menus and awarded contracts to the lowest bidders.

The full Metro Council will consider and vote on Holden’s proposed budget Dec. 11. With eight votes, the Council can move line items in the budget.