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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

County budget may force cut backs to Meals on Wheels program

MERRIMACK – St. Joseph Community Services, which provides food to struggling residents across the region, may have to cut back on its Meals on Wheels program if county officials move forward with plans to eliminate its local funding, agency officials announced Tuesday.

In past years, Hillsborough County legislators, who make up the county delegation, have provided thousands of dollars to support the county program. This year, they provided $63,000. But with budgets tight, the county commissioners are proposing to eliminate that funding in favor of other essential services.

The commissioners, who are responsible for overseeing the county attorney’s office, the Department of Corrections and other entities, included no funding this year in their 2012-13 budget proposal. They are scheduled to host a public hearing on the $84 million spending plan Wednesday in Goffstown.

“We are trying to make as lean a budget as we can while providing all the services that we’re required to do,” county Commissioner Carol Holden, of Amherst, said Tuesday. “Times are tough and we have to watch out for the taxpayers.”

The county funds make up only a portion – about 12 percent – of the total funding for the Meals on Wheels program, according to Meghan Brady, St. Joseph’s executive director.

A combination of state and federal funding, client donations and private fundraising help make up the rest of the program’s $500,000 budget, as well as the agency’s total $3.4 million budget, Brady said. Still, the county’s funds are essential to fill the gaps left by the other funding sources, helping agency officials meet the needs of some of the county’s neediest residents.

The program, in place for several years, serves only adults with disabilities and who receive a monthly income of $1,156 or less.

Last year, program workers served 521 clients – up from 392 five years ago, Brady said. But those numbers could fall next year without the county funding, as St. Joseph officials could be forced to cut back on its service days or to establish a client wait list, she said.

“The need keeps increasing, but the funding isn’t keeping pace,” said Brady, who already had to combine two of the agency’s Manchester sites to absorb budget cuts.

After Wednesday’s public hearing, the county commissioners will make final adjustments to their budget proposal, and then push it on to the legislative delegation’s budget subcommittees. The subgroups will then review the plan and send it forward to the delegation’s executive committee, who will finalize the proposal for a full delegation vote.

The hearing will start at 10 a.m. in the Bouchard Building, 329 Mast Road, Goffstown.

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.