Maintaining operational funding for the three Socorro County senior centers has been a balancing act for the county in recent years, and the county commission is — once more — asking the state government for relief.
County Manager Michael Hawkes explained that the county responded to a Request For Proposal (RFP) from the Aging and Long Term Services Department last summer.
“We responded to an RFP and the RFP was up on June 30, and we agreed to continue running the senior program through December. At a cost of about $225,000 above what our funds are.”
After that, he said, the state could send out another RFP for funding.
“We’re still negotiating with the state. The state understands that we’re in transition, so we’re seeing how just when or what how that’s going to take place,” he said. “We said we would only sign the RFP if they met obligations. They haven’t met our obligations and so we’re in the transition phase, but we have said we would run it for six months. We did sign that.
“At the end of the six months, it’s up to the state, “ he said. “But, and again, that’s going to cost us about $225,000 out of our general fund. The state’s either got to fund it in some form or fashion and/or look for another RFP from any organization or entity that wants it.”
Hawkes said the issue had nothing to do with how the county is managed.
“They reviewed all of our books and they found no mismanagement, no cost-overruns. They simply said, ‘the cost is the cost,’” Hawkes said. “They said maybe training will help. I told them if you can develop some kind of training that can save us $400,000 in one year, I think you guys should bottle that and sell it.
“I know of no type of training that has that kind of impact. It’s a state program that is not properly funded to meet costs.”
He explained the conundrum another way.
“Let’s say you wanted to buy a restaurant, and the owner shows you the books and it’s constantly losing $450,000 a year. Would you buy that restaurant?” Hawkes said. “Well, that’s what the state is wanting the RFP responders to do.”
The county’s position is that with New Mexico receiving federal money through the Build Back Better initiative, Hawkes said, there’s no reason for the state to deny picking up part of the cost of operating the senior centers.
“I was told New Mexico got $5 billion for Build Back Better,” Hawkes said. “I didn’t study economics at Yale or Columbia.
“I got my master’s degree at UNM, but if I know that I have money coming in to address my infrastructure that I’ve already allocated funds for, and now those funds are going to be either augmented or substantially increased to meet my infrastructure needs, then I know that money is freed up to address imperative, more emergency issues, right?”
He said the state is allocating only $100,000 to the Aging and Long Term Services Department from the Build Back Better amount to fund all 66 senior centers in New Mexico combined, and at the same time, he questions how that agency is actually dispersing its BBB money.
“I saw that Aging and Long Term Services was using money to sponsor Lobo football, while we are having to dip into our general fund to the tune of about $450,000 each year,” Hawkes said. “That’s $1.2 million over the last three years, because the state doesn’t fund any of it.”
The result is that money from other departments is often used to support the centers.
“When we lose employees in different departments, those funds are utilized for the senior center program and some employee positions aren’t replaced and/or equipment is not replaced,” he said.
“This means that other county-mandated services end up with shortfalls and it becomes a drain on other departments, county-wide. A drain on the sheriff’s department, a drain on the detention center, a drain on our roads and our facilities.
“All the elected officials’ offices. Everywhere. You just can’t keep taking $450,000 from the general fund into a program and expect it to have an impact on your overall budget allocations,” he said. “There are so many slices in the pie.”
Hawkes added that other counties are going through the same problem.
“And, we’re not the only ones going through this,” he said.
“Some counties don’t even run their own state-mandated senior programs. Some have non-profits do it, but then the non-profits come to their county governments and say, ‘Hey how much can you support us?’ so it’s always back to the county.”
Contracting out will be up to the state, Hawkes said. “That’s the bottom line.”
In the meantime, the commission at its September 13 meeting, passed Resolution No. 2022-65, “Adopting an Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan For Senior Centers.”
All three centers are requesting ICIP funding for surveillance systems, carports, and range hoods for the next fiscal year.
In addition, the Socorro Senior Center needs a new van and a remodeling of its kitchen and bathrooms. The Magdalena center is requesting money for a Hot Shot vehicle, as well as repaving its parking lot, and Veguita requires new flooring and repaving.
Funding for those projects will be decided during the next legislative session.