The City of Socorro may take over the management of the senior centers in Socorro and Veguita.
The Socorro City Council approved taking the next steps toward managing the two senior centers Tuesday night after they heard from representatives of the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District, which oversees the Area Agency on Aging.
Who will manage the three Socorro senior centers has been an open question after Socorro County’s contract to do so was terminated by the AAA in February. Magdalena’s Board of Trustees expressed interest in running the Magdalena center at their meeting earlier in March, and it seems the Socorro City Council may follow suit and take over the centers in Socorro and Veguita.
The City Council still has to see and agree to a detailed arrangement that would take the two senior centers through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in July. After that, the city would also have to bid on a four-year RFP to run the centers—something Socorro County previously did. But the councilors and Mayor Ravi Bhasker seemed supportive of the idea during their regular Tuesday meeting.
“A lot of our seniors, they retired 20 years ago. They made a nice paycheck 20 years ago at $800 a month. Now, with what’s happening, that $800 doesn’t go very far, so they are really super in need of our help,” said Councilor Anton Salome.
The Socorro center has 400 active users who rely on the meals or travel services, said AAA Director Neil Segotta. The Veguita center has 60 active users.
After speaking with city administration earlier, Segotta estimated that the Socorro center will cost $490,000 to operate for a year, while the Veguita center will be closer to $123,000.
That budget would be funded by federal, state and local dollars. Segotta said that typically the budgets are 17 percent federal money, 56 percent state money, 17 percent local match and 10 percent donations from seniors who use the services.
The City of Socorro has been providing $15,000 annually to the senior program, and use of the Socorro building, which is all AAA has budgeted from the city, Segotta said, but the city could contribute in additional ways through its existing transportation program.
“We’ve made it very clear to the agency that the city will not go in the red for this and that we will start with a pared down program and that we will build as we can with recreation and other things for the seniors,” Bhasker said.
The city administration would rehire one supervisor, two cooks and two drivers who were previously employed at the Socorro center by the county. The city would essentially be creating a new city department to run the senior centers. The senior center advisory board would continue.
Councilor Gordy Hicks asked if the centers would open in the morning again, an important time for people to come in and socialize.
“They come in the morning and have coffee, they play games, they play pool, they have pastry that’s donated from Brook’s that’s a couple days old,” Hicks said.
According to Bhasker, the city would initially open the centers from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch, then gradually add more services, like opening for longer hours and offering recreational activities and transportation, as it became possible.
Bhasker emphasized to the councilors that the city’s administration would not go into debt running the program. One strategy for reducing costs would be to use the city’s existing transportation system to help with the senior center related transportation.
If the councilors commit to running the centers in their first April meeting, the earliest the senior center doors could be reopened is mid-April.
The three centers have been temporarily closed, but meals are still being delivered to seniors until the centers can reopen. The former Socorro site supervisor Linda Mares has been hired part-time by AAA to ensure seniors get meals delivered to them. The meals are being delivered 30 at a time to seniors’ homes. Any seniors who have not received their meals, or with questions about the feeding program, can contact Mares at 505-946-7492.