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Meals on Wheels future uncertain

October 21, 2009
Sean Harkins

After Thunder Bay Transportation withdrew its services on Wednesday, the Alpena County Meals on Wheels program has holes to fill in 2010.

The Alpena County Older Persons Committee approved by a 5-2 vote to give TBT, which is managed by Prell Services, $42,000 to provide Meals on Wheels to areas in the county that are outside of Alpena Township and the City of Alpena.

The committee action serves as a recommendation to the county board of commissioners, which ultimately makes the decision on funding allocations.

Alpena Senior Citizens Center Executive Director Grace Marshall requested the county reconsider the committee's action because she said the senior center can offer the same service for a lower cost.

"I have no issue at all with Thunder Bay Transportation. What it boils down more than anything else is just cost," Marshall said, adding that TBT has offered quality service for the program.

During Wednesday's Alpena County Finance Committee, Prell Services Chief Financial Officer Billi Edmonds said the company is no longer interested in offering the Meals on Wheels program.

Half the service was paid by state and federal funding, but that funding was cut this month, Edmonds said. Without that funding, TBT has to absorb about 45 percent of the cost of the program, she said.

She also said the relationship with the senior center has deteriorated.

"We're not wanted there," she said.

She said TBT will offer service until the end of the year to honor its contract.

The finance committee asked the older persons committee to find another option for the program in 2010 and to adjust their budget accordingly, then bring it back to the county for final approval.

The senior center offers the Meals on Wheels program in the City of Alpena and Alpena Township. Marshall said using the same formula it uses to calculate wages, insurance and mileage for those areas, the center could offer the rest of the county the service for $32,760 per year.

TBT was approved for $42,000 in funding after asking for over $47,000.

Older persons committee Chairperson Germaine Stoppa said the TBT proposal was accepted because the committee believed TBT was more suited to handle any liability issues.

Stoppa said she was surprised by what transpired on Wednesday.

"I was a little bit shocked that Thunder Bay Transportation has actually pulled out. I feel that is an unfortunate situation, I feel that they were doing a wonderful job, and they've been doing it for many, many years. It's just a very unfortunate thing that this is the way it has to come down," she said.

The senior center first looked at what it would cost to take over the program after TBT told the older persons committee in September that it was likely to run $16,000 over budget. That issue was resolved when rates were adjusted from a $43 per hour government rate to a $33.54 per hour senior rate.

Marshall said a change needed to be investigated because the program was growing as funding was shrinking. She said the state legislature is also looking to cut senior services by 13 percent in its interim budget.

She said she was looking out for the best interest of the program and did not mean any ill will toward TBT or Edmonds.

"Any time one of my programs is threatened I get pretty bristly, and when she came in to sit down I think both of us were probably a little bit bristly. I mean, they don't want to see $42,000 taken out of their budget either," she said.

The older persons committee will meet to discuss its options on Nov. 4 at 3 p.m. in the Howard Male Conference Room in the county annex building.

Sean Harkins can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5688.



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