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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Meals on Wheels advocates speak out against cuts at hearing

GOFFSTOWN – Tracey Labbe has witnessed how much Meals on Wheels meant to her family.

The program delivers meals to elderly shut-ins, provides physical comfort and emotional comfort, and serves to boost the morale of the clients it serves, said Labbe, a Nashua resident.

“I know it was crucial to my grandfather, whom I lost a couple of years ago,” Labbe said. “That driver was part of my family, and will always be.”

Sometimes the volunteer drivers who deliver meals are the only human contact the elderly clients have in the course of a day, said Meghan Brady, presidents of St. Joseph Community Services, Inc., a local Meals on Wheels provider.

Labbe, Brady and more than 30 others attended a public hearing Wednesday morning hosted by the Hillsborough County commissioners. The purpose of the hearing was to gather input on a proposed fiscal 2013 budget that would cut $63,450 from the county’s funding for Meals on Wheels.

That would bring the county’s funding to zero. Currently, 12 percent of St. Joseph Services’ total budget for Meals on Wheels comes from county tax dollars.

The agency provides 1,700 meals a day in the county, said Kevin Halloran, chairman of St. Joseph Services board of directors.

“The need has increased over the last five years, and our funding has not. In some cases, our funding has gone down,” Halloran said.

The overall proposed county budget is down slightly, from $84.92 million in fiscal 2012 to the proposed $84.53 million for fiscal 2013. Because much of the budget is made up of contractual employee costs, the amount that would have to be raised by county taxes would increase by 2 percent, to almost $45 million.

However, that doesn’t mean individual taxes would increase by 2 percent, just the total amount that would have to be raised, officials said.

The projected increase would mean a hike of 3 cents in the city of Nashua taxes, or a total of $8 for the owner of a $250,000 home, said Sandra Ziehm, chairwoman of the county commissioners and a Nashua resident.

Ziehm said this estimate was provided by David Fredette, city treasurer and tax collector.

The largest parts of the county budget is spent on nursing homes, the sheriff’s department, courts, the county jail, the registry of deeds, the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, and other smaller programs.

“I can’t support an increase (in county taxes) while cutting services to the elderly,” said Phil Greazzo, a Manchester alderman.

The proposed budget now goes to the Hillsborough County Executive Committee, where parts will be vetted by various subcommittees, said Carl Seidel, who chairs the Hillsborough County Executive Committee.

The Executive Committee then will recommend a county budget for 2013 to the 123-member Hillsborough County Delegation. The delegation will hold a public hearing, likely by the end of April, before voting on the recommendation, Seidel said.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or