Craven Countyís recent decision to stop the Havelock and Harlowe senior center congregate meals programs started stirring a public opinion pot that now appears to be boiling.


Craven Countyís recent decision to stop the Havelock and Harlowe senior center congregate meals programs started stirring a public opinion pot that now appears to be boiling.



Many of those connected to the centers feel the east end of the county is being unfairly targeted for program cuts and came out to talk about during Mondayís Craven County Board of Commissioners meeting in New Bern.



The Craven County Aging Planning Board, which faced state and federal budget cuts, proposed ending the programs. Part of the decision was based on new criteria that just 12 people combined in Harlowe and Havelock met. Those 12 could be transported to the George Street Senior Center in New Bern to participate in that program, which will be funded, as will the Vanceboro program that also serves Cove City and Dover.



About 25 seniors in Havelock and 13 in Harlowe participated on average in the weekday program.



Craven County paid for a 10 percent match of grant funds, about $7,950 for the $79,502 program countywide.



Commissioners board chairman Scott Dacey said he opposes additional county tax money for the free meals that he said some seniors donít need.



"In my view, these meals should be restricted to those who truly canít take care of themselves," he said. "I feel bad about the others, but I think itís the right public policy. We should look to the community, particularly faith-based organizations, to fill in the gap."



Craven County Commissioner Lee K. Allen of Havelock said he had been bombarded with calls from people annoyed with the change and some who were concerned that Dean Roberts, Havelockís representative on the Aging Planning Board, was not allowed to vote on what was a unanimous action.



Havelock Commissioner George Liner spoke to the county board during its budget public hearing, saying the new meal criteria are not required for the congregate meal program, which is funded through a $27,086 federal grant with a $3,010 county match and about $4,800 from the city of Havelock



"The benefits of socialization and a balanced meal far outweigh the cost of the program," Liner said. "If we can keep our seniors in their homes, in their communities, and out of long term care ... then we all benefit, not only from a quality of life standpoint but we reduce the countyís Medicaid costs burden."



He said he would have no objection to an across-the-board funding cut but does oppose the Havelock and Harlowe centers being targeted instead.



"This is not the first time we have had to close a center," Craven commissioner Jeff Taylor said. "This is not unprecedented."



Four years ago, two centers in his district in the western end of the county, one in Cove City and one in Dover, were closed and their eligible seniors now participate in the congregate meals program in Vanceboro.



On Tuesday at the Havelock Senior Center, about 20 meals were served, including one to Herb Rotchford, 75.



"I feel that the senior centers in Havelock and Harlowe are getting the short end of the stick," he said. "It seems like they donít care."



"We feed anywhere from 15 to 25 people," he said. "Thereís a lot of people here that are not satisfied with this decision. Weíve got just as many seniors that are in need."



Phil Heckhaus, 83, drives from New Bern to eat lunch at the Havelock Senior Center.



"Iím disappointed that itís being discontinued, but I donít know the details," he said. "If itís necessary, Iíll live with it."



Billy Sides, 74, said the meal is important for him and his wife.



"I wouldnít get a good meal thatís proper for my diet or my needs," he said. "My wife is unable to cook anymore. Itís almost an absolute for us."



Joe Mason, 80, was among those eating at the senior center on Tuesday.



"Certain ones of us are going to miss it," he said. "I guess most people have disability but theyíre not disabled."



Mason said he would be disappointed if the meals are dropped but understands.



"Itís convenient, but in a lot of cases, not absolutely necessary," he said. "I guess it has certain social benefits. I guess a lot of these old-timers just donít want to sit at home if theyíre able to get out."



Alfreda Stout, of the Craven County Department of Social Services, which oversees the program, said that seniors who qualify and canít get out are delivered frozen meals.



The budget has not yet been approved. Commissioners plan a noon Friday work session to consider comments from the hearing and a few personnel matters before taking a vote.



Dacey proposed that the county approve a balanced budget that uses no reserve fund balance and reduces the current tax rate from 47 cents per $100 in property value to 46.75 cents.



The county has until June 30 to approve a budget.