By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item
NORTHUMBERLAND — The only Northumberland County commissioner to oppose the closing of two county Senior Action Centers told an elderly audience Thursday that they deserved a place to socialize.
“I was against these closings from the start,” Commissioner Steve Bridy told a group of more than 25 at the Northumberland-Point Township Senior Action Center, talking about the shuttering of the Riverside, Elysburg and Dewart centers.
One month after Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Rick Shoch voted to close the buildings, a second vote allowed Elysburg to remain open on a part-time basis.
Bridy told the senior citizens he is continuing his fight to keep the centers open, two of which will close Jan. 31.
“Elysburg contacted me and we started doing our research and we are trying to do everything we can to get these centers open,” Bridy said.
County seniors face difficulty if they do not have a place to meet, Bridy said.
“They need a place to go and visit with their friends,” Bridy said. “We need these centers.”
Eleven of the 23 members of the defunct Riverside center have joined the Northumberland-Point Township group, and one told Bridy he was upset he had to drive so far to meet with friends.
“I hate we have to do this,” the man said. “How could this happen?”
The answer lies with the state and Act 22, said Patricia A. Rumberger, Area Agency on Aging administrator.
Act 22, in effect for the 2011-12 fiscal year, granted Secretary of Public Welfare Gary Alexander the ability to institute changes in programming without formal legislative approval. The intent of the act was to reduce fraud and abuse in the welfare system, but even Republicans who supported it have acknowledged its “unintended consequences” in human services funding.
“Those questions maybe should be asked of our state legislators,” Rumberger said. “We got cut, and it is hurting everywhere.”
One member said she wasn’t concerned with other areas of the state, just Northumberland County.
“If that’s the case, then they all should be voted out in Harrisburg,” said Shirley Pyers, 81, of Sunbury. “We are concerned with our residents right here and we should be getting answers as to why there is no money.”
Regardless of the financial situation, Rumberger was pleased that members from Northumberland accepted those from Riverside.
“I applaud you all for that,” she said. “It is so nice to see this happening under these circumstances.”
Accepting other members was a given, senior citizens said.
“We are happy to have them,” a man said. “We just want to have answers on why these centers are closing.”
Changes are necessary because of the fiscally challenging times facing Area Agency on Aging offices statewide, Bridy said, and budget constraints are a “direct result” of the Act 22 regulations.
“Believe me, this is something I hate to see,” Bridy said. “I can promise you I am working hard to see what we can do. We are looking at every option.”
It cost more than $8,000 per member to operate the Riverside facility and $4,000 for Dewart, Rumberger said. Elysburg has 73 members and 14 visit regularly, she said.
Since Dewart closed, attendance in Milton has increased, Rumberger said. “It seems to be that people are coming together now,” she said. “It’s great to see.”
The Northumberland-Point Township center has more than 125 members with the addition of those from Riverside, Rumberger said.
“We need to start looking at doing fundraising and looking at those types of options,” she told the group. “We really are trying to do everything we can.”
Commissioners agreed in December to evaluate Dewart and Riverside and see what, if anything, can be done to re-open those centers.