New senior commission at work

CAPE ELIZABETH – Cape Elizabeth’s newly created Senior Citizen Advisory Commission has already identified a number of issues facing the town’s older population and this week will begin work on a strategic plan to present to the Town Council by the end of the year.

The committee was created earlier this year and now has a regular meeting schedule of 11 a.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at Town Hall. All meetings are open to the public and suggestions from the public about how the town can better serve seniors are welcome.

The committee consists of Brett Seekins, who was chosen as chairman, Elizabeth Baillie, Bruce Nelson, Pat Bradenberg, Barbara Page, June O’Neill and William Marshall. Town Council Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan is the council liaison and Matt Sturgis, the assessor, is the staff liaison.

The overall goal of the commission is to “advise the Town Council on issues facing the over-60 population of the community,” according to the group’s charge.

As part of its work, the commission plans to look at demographic data, as well as gather information about resources and programs already available to seniors living in Cape Elizabeth.

So far the group has identified several key issues facing seniors, including property taxes, adequate heating of their homes, access to and confidence in using the Internet, social isolation, access to quality care, good nutrition and medication management, among others.

Part of providing better nutrition options, according to commission member Barbara Page, is introducing more of the town’s older population to the statewide Farm Shares for Seniors program. The program, which is based on income and age, provides recipients with fresh produce weekly, with some delivery available, all for $50.

In terms of property taxes, commission member June O’Neill said the biggest issue is that an increase in taxes has a significant impact on a senior’s quality of life as the tax bill begins to demand an ever-greater share of a senior’s income.

Sturgis told the group that this is in fact “a longstanding and real concern for seniors as their incomes are fixed (or) diminishing and the potential impacts may be to choose to pay taxes or buy oil.”

He also mentioned the problem was made worse in Maine with the elimination of the statewide circuit breaker program, which was designed as a rebate program. Under a change in that program, the maximum benefit of $1,600 annually has fallen to a flat rate of $400.

In terms of heating assistance, the group said the available aid, which includes the federal low-income heating program and general assistance from the town, is often not widely publicized and there seems to be a lack of literature available on how the programs work.

To help with this type of problem, the commission has weighed recommending the creation of a centralized referral and resource program. In addition, it would be nice, commission members said, if someone at Town Hall could be assigned to work specifically with seniors, who often get confused and overwhelmed with paperwork.

In addition to having a senior services staff person, the commission also said there should be more senior-specific programming offered at the library and other organizations, like Community Services.

The Senior Citizen Advisory Commission also talked about the need to provide better training for emergency services dispatchers in assisting seniors who call for help, particularly those who may have mental health issues.

In all, the group has discussed using a two-tiered approach to its work, according to Sturgis, with the two main areas of concern being health-related issues and activity-related issues.

At the first meeting of the commission in mid-April, Sullivan told the group that the Town Council is looking forward to receiving its report, particularly in identifying the myriad issues facing seniors and the recommendations on how to better provide assistance.

The commission’s most recent meeting was held on Tuesday, April 29, after the Current’s deadline. The scheduled guest speaker was David Galvin who was asked to talk about the South Portland/Cape Elizabeth TRIAD organization, which has a goal of bringing local businesses and community members together to enhance the qualify of life and improve the safety of seniors living in each of the two communities.

A CLOSER LOOK

The Cape Elizabeth Senior Citizen Advisory Commission meets at 11 a.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at Town Hall. Call Matt Sturgis at 799-1619 for more information.