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Budget cuts topic of Council on Aging public hearing

Izzie Sadler, development director for the SOWEGA Council on Aging, presents a floor plan for the Senior Life Enrichment Center currently being constructed in downtown Albany. The agency is facing a budget cut this year of over 10 percent.

Izzie Sadler, development director for the SOWEGA Council on Aging, presents a floor plan for the Senior Life Enrichment Center currently being constructed in downtown Albany. The agency is facing a budget cut this year of over 10 percent.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Over the course of eight days, the SOWEGA Council on Aging has hosted two public hearings as a means of interacting with the communities in its service area -- the second of which took place in downtown Albany on Wednesday.

Officials with the Council on Aging conducted the hearing at 1:30 p.m. at its senior center at 311 Pine Ave., with budget cuts being the primary topic of discussion.

The hearings, held annually, were hosted as an effort, officials say, to give citizens of any age the opportunity to join in a discussion of the programs and services offered within the agency's 14-county area. The other hearing was held at the senior center located on West Water Street in Bainbridge on Jan. 15.

SOWEGA Executive Director Kay Hind and Assistant Director Debbie Blanton participated in Wednesday's event by giving an overview of the agency's 2012 annual report as well the programs and services available, in addition to the budget changes expected to come this year.

The most recent census data available, when calculated under a set formula that accounts for factors including poverty and minority population, indicates that the SOWEGA Council on Aging is expected to lose over 10 percent of its budget this year, which will force officials to make some hard decisions and eventually formulate a plan to accommodate for the cut, Hind said.

Individuals were given the opportunity to voice any needs pertaining to programs and services -- specifically regarding suggestions on what programs should be retained and how they potentially could be scaled back.

Food and transportation were among the things suggested that the agency keep. The input also implied that clients would, as the budget allows, like to maintain special activities as well as services currently available to dementia patients and their families.

The suggestions provided on how to reduce the burden of offering those services centered on enforcing provisions encouraging clients to contact the agency if they do not need transportation or a meal on a certain day so as to avoid spending money providing a service to people who ultimately do not show up.

"We will have to think about that hard this year," Blanton said.

Issuing pamphlets in churches, expanding on media and Internet presence and possibly advertising on utility statements were among the suggestions to get the word out on the agency and what it does.

These hearings took place as construction is moving forward on the 45,000-square-foot Senior Life Enrichment Center on West Society Avenue in Albany, which officials have said is expected to be complete by the end of this year.

Izzie Sadler, development director for the Council on Aging, gave a progress report on the center's construction.

"It's exciting because most of the progress is happening on the outside," Sadler said. "In a few months, the outside will look pretty much like it is going to look, and work will start on the inside.

"We can see it taking shape. We are all very excited. Not only will it be a beautiful building, but it will offer more space to do things in a new and exciting way."

Officials have said the project will reflect an investment of more than $8 million, collected primarily through fundraisers, by the time it is completed.

The council provides more than 20 programs for individuals age 60 and over in Baker, Calhoun, Colquitt, Decatur, Dougherty, Early, Grady, Lee, Miller, Mitchell, Seminole, Terrell, Thomas and Worth counties. Its report for 2012 -- first presented at the agency's annual meeting on Nov. 27 -- showed that it provided $10.3 million in community-based care services during the year, which are available to individuals eligible for Medicaid as an alternative to nursing home placement.

Of that $10.3 million, more than $7.8 million went toward personal support services, the report showed.