By Alex Lippa
---- — ATKINSON — Just three months ago, many seniors voiced their concerns about the future of the Elderly Affairs Department.
Now, details are being ironed out about how it will function under new leadership.
Town Administrator Bill Innes presented a mission statement to selectmen last week that outlined goals and responsibilities of the department under his control.
“I’ve been really looking to have a definition of the department,” Innes said. “I want to put a foundation in place, but it is not my intent to dictate what the department would be.”
The department helps seniors with transportation to medical appointments and other needs. The town has $43,000 budgeted for the department this year. That money covers the salaries of the drivers, gasoline and maintenance.
Innes pointed to the need for a system that would allow the town to identify problems and evaluate all the funded programs to ensure they are effective.
“We are looking to just get a baseline from where the department can meet its needs,” he said.
Innes has served as the acting elderly affairs director since March, when former police Chief Phil Consentino was fired from the position. After Consentino was fired, Innes spoke about a desire to have the department be more transparent than in the past.
While the town is providing seniors with transportation services, Consentino continues to be available to any senior who needs his assistance, using money from a private charitable fund he presides over.
“Anything that doesn’t have anything to do with a ride, I’m here to help out with,” Consentino said last week. “I just helped a woman put a new heating system in her house.”
Innes said the town hopes to work with Consentino on things that can’t be covered by the town.
“I want to work collaboratively,” Innes said. “We’ve looked through assisted items which the town can contribute toward and items that the charitable trust and some other entities in town can do. I believe we worked out a process where we have defined what each will do.”
Innes declined to go into detail about which services will be provided by whom.
Innes has also defined the two ways which the department will be funded. There is the general fund which appears in the budget and is approved by voters at Town Meeting and a fund that accepts donations from residents and sponsors that is managed by the Trustees of the Trust Fund.
The next step for the town is to find someone to supervise the department. Innes has written a job desciption that has been approved by selectmen. The position is a volunteer position.
“I’d like to get it filled as soon as possible,” Innes said. “I’m not sure it will be a formal job search, but I want it to be filled quickly.”
So far, seniors who have worked with Innes on the advisory committee are pleased with the direction the department is taking.
“The process is going along well,” Alan Phair said. “I feel comfortable that we’ve done our due diligence to put in place something that will be workable.”
Ted Houlihan, a driver for the program, said things have worked out as well as he could have hoped.
“It’s different, but (Consentino) built a great system which is still working in the way we hoped it would,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be a deficiency. Now the town is assuming control of that and that’s probably appropriate.”
Innes has laid out plans for several new programs, including a property tax burden program and a senior connection program that would use active seniors as volunteers to help seniors who need assistance.
One detail that still needs to be determined is the location of the department, which is now run out of the Atkinson police station.