County Cost Cutting Changes

Senior Services meals program outsourced in Bosque County; Memorial Library reverts to City of Meridian rental property

MERIDIAN -- Ever since the Memorial Library Building in Meridian was renovated in 2016, the Bosque County Senior Services ran their meals program for the homebound from that location.

The program prepared and delivered around 1200 meals per month from the kitchen located in the building that has become known as the Senior Center on N. Main in Meridian.

Instead of rent or maintenance costs, the county only paid for the utilities, water and electricity. But the past year, the City failed to send the necessary invoices. When the City brought up the utility costs with Bosque County Judge Don Pool and the County Auditor Trish Fritsche, the county decided to re-evaluate the effectiveness and the cost of the entire program.

In spite of Texas of Agriculture and Heart of Texas Council of Governments grants, the Bosque County Senior Services – which the meals program is a part – has been running at a $128,000 deficit. By outsourcing the service to and independent contractor Trio Community Catering in Waco, the county hopes to eliminate the cost of part-time cooks, supplies and some transportation.

From Oct. 12, Trio will be delivering meals at $4.99 per meal for the homebound; dropping off meals at Valley Mills, Clifton and Meridian three days a week for further distribution by volunteers.

“The important thing is, that our homebound citizens are still being served,” Senior Services Director Susan Baker said. “They will still get a hot meal, dessert and a drink three days a week, at comparable quality.”

At that cost, with 85-100 meals per week, the service will cost between $61,000 and $72,000. The annual state funding from Texas feeding Texans and HOTCOG grants of $70,000 and $10,000 – this amount varies per year – will now more or less cover the cost. The donations towards the meals will be extra revenue for Senior Services. The consumables and other supplies inventory at the Memorial library will be transferred to the county law enforcement center.

The TDA Texans Feeding Texans Home-Delivered Meal Grant Program was established to help supplement and extend the applicants current home-delivered meal program for seniors and/or disabled Texans. Bosque County Senior Services has applied for and received the grant for the past 12 years. Both grants require a 10 percent match by the county.

On the days the meals were distributed, a group of Meridian seniors liked to congregate at the Memorial Library Building to chat, play cards or dominoes. This social gathering was eliminated with COVID-19 restrictions. Unless another option is found, those affected will have to find another way continue their socializing.

The City of Meridian had expected some negotiating back and forth regarding the building’s utility costs. The county pulling out of the meals program entirely came as a surprise.

“To be clear, we did not initiate any of this,” Meridian Mayor Johnnie Hauerland said at the Meridian City Council meeting Monday, Oct. 12. “I’m sorry that this is happening. It was a good social situation for a group of senior citizens.”

According to Pool, it is the county’s function with Senior Services to take care of a group that cannot fully take care of themselves. If people can drive to the Memorial Library Building, they are technically not homebound, and therefore not eligible for the “donation-only” meals they were being served.

“In my opinion, the county is taking care of business,” Pool said. “We have to be conscious of taxpayers money. And this is a budget thing. If they want to continue the social gathering place, the city should take over that responsibility.”

The meal program limited the Memorial Library building to being rented out in the afternoons after 3 p.m. only. With Senior Services vacating the building, the City of Meridian will expand the rental times and will be looking at ways to effectively utilize the building.

Several options have already been mentioned and will be researched. Moving the Meridian Police Department into the present City Hall location, and City Hall moving into the Memorial Library Building is one of the options to be explored.

That move would save the city rental money for the Meridian Police Department. But the Main Street location will decrease the privacy of people coming into the MPD, and there is nowhere to park the MPD vehicles.

“We were upset to hear that the meal program was going away,” City Administrator Marie Garland said. “But we now have our building back, and we will be looking at options.”

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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