2015-12-18 / Front Page

Strike two for senior survey

Nonprofit No Place Like Home will have to conduct poll without taxpayer assistance
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — If a new grassroots group dedicated to serving the needs of local seniors wants to poll them on just what those needs are, it’ll have to do so without the help of the town’s taxpayers.

At their Dec. 8 meeting, selectmen declined to reconsider an earlier vote, cast on Nov. 24, in which they said no to providing matching funds for the project.

No Place Like Home (NPLH), a nonprofit that aims to help senior citizens “age in place” and remain vital members of their community, has held seven community meetings since its founding in 2014, to help decide where it can best direct its efforts.

Resident Molly Hoadley, a retired family counselor, and her husband Jay Kilbourn, vice president of Casella Waste Systems, provided seed money to found the agency, which operates under the auspices of York County Community Action.

At the selectmen’s meeting, Hoadley said the group is “still in development stage,” but aspires to become a sort of “neighbor to-neighbor” outreach center that facilitates whatever aid locals might want to provide to senior citizens in the area, “in a more organized fashion.”

Given the high number of seniors in Kennebunk – Town Manager Barry Tibbetts has pegged the “over 65” demographic at more than 30 percent of the town’s total population – Hoadley said the need is both great, and growing.

“We know that when people are engaged, they live healthier lives, they live longer and they need fewer medical services,” she said. “The whole emphasis here is on trying to help people stay in their homes as long as they can.”

Toward that end, No Place Like Home won a $7,600 grant from AARP to help it survey Kennebunk seniors on what they want to do, in their homes and around town, and what help they need in order to do it.

But the grant came with a catch. According to the AARP contract, $4,000 of its money was earmarked for an unnamed consultant, tasked with compiling and analyzing survey responses, and providing “a written narrative describing the information gathered.” A copy of that report was to be shared with AARP. The remaining $3,600 would have gone toward printing and mailing the survey to some 5,000 Kennebunk addresses. However, Tibbetts estimated the full cost of that work at more than $12,000 and the remaining $8,400 was to have come in the form of a matching grant from the town.

That being the case, selectmen gave a firm 7-0, “No, thank you” to the AARP grant. However, Chairman Kevin Donovan invited NPLH officials to come back if they could put a better offer on the table.

At the Dec. 8 meeting, agency officials returned with a new request and a new survey.

NPLH volunteer Leila Tahncke said the Planning Board asked the group to include a host of general questions about the town, to help it gear up for an overhaul to Kennebunk’s comprehensive plan – written in 2003 and last amended in 2011.

That made the survey a collaborative effort, she said.

“To me, I would like to view this as an opportunity for the town, not some extra cost that we don’t need,” NPLH board member Ted Trainer said.

However, selectmen objected to the inclusion of generalized questions on growth and development in the town.

Selectman Richard Morin said Kennebunk has already contracted with a New Hampshire firm for a forthcoming online community survey on that topic, while Selectman Deborah Beal said asking planning questions – like whether new buildings should be made to match the character of existing structures – misses the intended point of the senior survey, entirely.

“To me, that’s not targeting the age group we’re looking for,” she said. “On that [question], it doesn’t make a difference whether it’s a senior, a 20-year-old or a 30-year-old answering, in my opinion.”

“These folks came to us with an aging survey and we turned around and made it about us,” Selectman Christopher Cluff agreed.

Hoadley acknowledged the updated survey was “a hodge-podge of what we needed, and what the town needed.”

But the worst sin, according to Cluff, was that the survey was simply too long.

“I dare say you are not going to get the response you want, because nobody is going to want to sit down with a 10-page survey,” he said.

Selectmen Ed Karytko chimed in to suggest the survey is simply unnecessary. Information on senior needs is readily available from polls conducted in nearby towns, and by state officials, he said.

But Hoadley batted away that complaint by saying, simply, “We are a different community.” She also said average completion time for the survey had been measured at just 15 minutes.

But former Selectman Al Searles, taking the podium from his place in the audience, had a question no one could answer, at least not to his satisfaction.

Tibbetts said Kennebunk could save the $4,000 targeted by the AARP grant for a consultant by having the town’s economic development director, Mat Eddy, collate results with the help of NPLH volunteers. That money could then be funneled into printing and mailing the survey, he said, noting further refinements now had that cost penciled in at $11,062.

“My question is, why is the economic development director involved in this project at all?” Searles asked. “This doesn’t have anything to do with economic development.”

“Well, one reason is that finding out information about the community helps us think in terms of providing services to the citizens,” Tibbetts said. “It’s information that can help us in the long run.”

But Searles seemingly had little regard for that explanation.

“Nah, I’m not buying it, Barry,” he said.

Still, for most selectmen, the bottom line seemed to come down to dollars and cents.

Tibbetts said his new calculations put funding needed from the town in order to accept the AARP grant at $3,462. About four years ago, selectmen appropriated $50,000 to set aside as a pool to draw from when grants require a local match, he said. That account still has more than $40,000. And if selectmen chose not to tap that account, there was money to be had in an account set aside for use by the comprehensive plan review committee, or even in the town’s advertising budget.

Even so, selectmen balked at the expenditure, regardless of the funding source.

“I don’t want to spend any town money on this. I really don’t,” Karytko said. “Look, I’m a senior. I love getting my discount at Dunkin’ Donuts, and my free tea at Wendy’s. So, it’s not because I don’t like seniors. That’s not the point.

“I think the work your organization is doing is wonderful,” Karytko told the NPLH volunteers. “It’s just a question of whether this survey is going to be of any value at all compared to its cost.

“I’m just really disappointed this is coming back to the table at all,” Karytko said. “We already voted 7-0 ‘no,’ and no, in my book, means no.”

Staff Writer Wm. Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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