Twelve county employees may lose their jobs as the local senior services programme is transferred, and the Socorro County commissioners have pledged to dramatically reduce spending on local senior facilities from county monies. Socorro County lost its contract to run the senior facilities from the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging because it began using inmates from the detention jail to cook food without first alerting or enabling the agency to assess the inmate employment programme.
During an unexpected meeting on Tuesday, the Socorro County commissioners examined the future of the country’s elder services programme. The mayor of Socorro had previously met with Monica Abeita, executive director of the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District, earlier in the day.
She wanted to know how much money Socorro County will provisionally allocate for the senior centre, so she went to talk to the commissioners. An approximate financial commitment from the county would allow her to negotiate a proposal with a potential new program provider on how it will manage the program.
She requested a total of $240,000 from the county, $150,000 of which would be paid in cash and $90,000 of which would be provided in the form of in-kind services. Federal, state, and local governments also contribute to the centres’ budgets. The county has, for the most part, underwritten the expense of running the senior centers, including items like insurance, utilities, and maintenance.
For at least a year, though, Socorro County commissioners and county manager Michael Hawkes have voiced worries about the program’s financial sustainability, calling for increased state support and reduced local contributions to the senior center’s operating budget.
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The commissioners only agreed to match the city of Socorro’s financial support for the programme with $15,000 cash and use of the Socorro County-owned senior centre buildings in Veguita and Magdalena, despite the county losing control of the senior center’s operations and offering no assurance that current employees will be able to keep their jobs.
In a follow-up interview, Hawkes explained that although the county had originally decided not to sign the RFP to continue running the senior programs last June due to the cost, it had agreed to several extensions in order to keep running the program in the hopes that the legislature would provide more funding.
According to Hawkes, the state contributed between $320,000 and $350,000 for the entire fiscal year, while the county is likely to spend more than the state’s contribution by the end of the fiscal year. The county will have spent at least $300,000 by mid-March.
“I’m kind of amiss why they’re still wanting the county to put in the brunt of the money when you have an incorporated city where most of the services are taking place, 85 percent,” Hawkes said.
“I don’t understand why the state isn’t asking the city to be the fiscal agent and do the (insurance) coverage and to put in the 200 and some thousand. The county would be glad to put in their fair share, 15 percent of the overall operational costs.”
Who will Take Over Operating the Senior Centers?
Adelante, a non-profit that provides senior care and services in other parts of the state, is considering taking over senior center operations in Socorro County. Hawkes informed the commissioners that Adelante has previously offered to manage the Socorro County programme.
According to Hawkes, the prior offer advocated lowering senior center hours and services in order to cut costs while still employing nine of the current personnel. Abeita noted that Adelante is not the only provider approached about taking over the Socorro program, rather, it is the only supplier interested in doing so.
On March 17 the county contract will come to an end, and on March 18 operations will be transferred.
The Inmate Work Program Stopped
The county stopped using the employment program on February 10 after being told by Non-Metro AAA to stop using it, and on February 6, trusties began making meals in the senior center kitchen. Non-Metro AAA would have been willing to examine and collaborate on a program with the county, as stated by Abeita, but the agency only learned of the work program through hearsay after it had already been established.
“We ran the names we have through New Mexico courts and these did not seem like individuals that were safe to be working in a senior center. That’s all review that should have been done ahead of time,” she said.
Abeita said the deal was cancelled because the potential legal consequences were too great for the nonprofit, the state, and the elderly. The R.I.S.E. program’s Athena Gassoumis testified to verify that the work program complied with all applicable correctional facility guidelines and detention center guidelines to protect the local population.
“So yes, if you look at people’s background checks that are at the detention center, well, are they going to be golden? Absolutely not, but that’s the whole point of the program, is for them to give back,” Gassoumis said.
While she admitted that the proper channels for alerting Non-Metro AAA may not have been followed, she insisted that the trustees had benefited from the employment program because it had saved the county money on labor while also providing them with something to look forward to. “They cried when the plug was pulled,” she said.