A hot time at the Seniors' Hall -- about what seniors need, and about new charges for paper bills

Mayor Kathy Moore introduced consultant Sandi McCreight to a crowded meeting at the Seniors' Hall.
Mayor Kathy Moore introduced consultant Sandi McCreight to a crowded meeting at the Seniors' Hall.

Consultant Sandi McCreight is gathering information from senior citizens in Rossland and other Lower Columbia communities, to find out what seniors need here that isn't already available.  She has been circulating questionnaires that seniors can pick up and drop off at City Hall, or at Alpine Drug Mart.

"The goal is to work with our seniors to create communities where all seniors have access to desired activities and supports. By collecting information from local seniors we hope to create and or enhance community programs, for seniors, with seniors," says McCreight.

Mayor Kathy Moore introduced McCreight to a crowded meeting at the Rossland Seniors' Hall on Wednesday, February 8.  Council members Lloyd McLellan, John  Greene and Marten Kruysse were also among the crowd.

McCreight explained that she needs to hear from seniors, and from service providers to seniors too. When she described what a "seniors' advocate" can do for seniors in a community, there was a clamour of approval.  "Well, if you want a seniors' advocate here, put that in your questionnaires!" said McCreight.

She noted that the people at the meeting are able to get around and decide to attend, but  "the ones who are missing are the ones who are isolated, because of health, or transportation, or other issues.  If you know of someone like that, have a chat with them about this program and get them to tell us what they're seeing, and what they want.  It's very  important that we hear from them."

McCreight spoke of the importance of  having connections in one's community, especially as we age.  She explained that elder abuse takes many forms, and described one instance of an elder being systematically fleeced by an opportunistic younger person, and putting up with the financial abuse in return for company.  When the situation came to McCreight's attention, she was able to provide a better community connection and stop the abuse.

Asked what they enjoy in the community now, one person described a regular volunteer-run session of stretching exercises at the Seniors' Hall.  "And then we have cake and goodies!"  said another, and everyone laughed.

The meeting generated quite a bit of laughter, and one of the elders present commented that one of the advantages of the regular seniors' gatherings is the amount of laughter they share.

The meeting became much more vocal when Rossland's Chief Financal Officer stood up to explain how to understand the City's new-format utility bills, and why the City will be charging three dollars per quarterly bill (that's one dollar per month) to send the bills out in hard-copy -- in paper, through the postal system -- to those who do  not sign up to have their bills delivered by e-mail instead.

Hamming explained how expensive it is for the City to spend the time and postage sending out paper bills, compared with doing it electronically; and how the City is increasingly pressed to save operating expenses and keep taxes from rising too fast.  But a number of those present weren't buying it, and felt outraged that the City was "punishing seniors for being old, and not having computers or knowing how to use them." 

Others pointed out that though a dollar a month doesn't sound like much, a number of other agencies are adding surcharges for paper billing, and that all these small charges add up for those who are  not electronically connected or capable.  "There are seniors using the food bank!" exclaimed one person, who suggested that for a person who needs to use the food bank, an additional charge of even a few dollars is too much.

One person stated that seniors should be exempted from the additional charge for paper billing.  Another thought that the exemption should apply only to those seniors who applied for it.  But Hamming seemed to be visualizing the administrative headaches involved in charging some for their paper bills and exempting others.   She said that the charge was partly to help cover the additional expense to the City, and partly to encourage everyone to sign up for electronic billing.

The meeting brainstormed ideas on how to enable elders without computers or the know-how to use them to get their utility bills, possibly electronically -- perhaps at the library -- without paying the surcharge.  But there were no conclusions about solutions to the problem.

There is currently no phone  line or internet connection at the Rossland Seniors' Hall, so it can't assist.

As for paying, Hamming pointed out the advantages of authorizing payment by automatic withdrawal from one's credit union or bank account.  "You never have to worry about paying on time, or getting a cheque to City Hall or the Post Office." But she cautioned that even with automatic payment, one should keep track of the bills -- and one's account balance in the financial institution.

As described at Monday's City Council meeting, Columbia Basin Trust is funding the initial research on seniors' needs, and has committed to fund a portion of a two-year pilot project based on the outcomes of the research.  "Age Friendly Lower Columbia" is the name of the initiative, and Beaver Valley, Warfield, Trail and Area B are aso taking part. 

Any readers who are aware of seniors who are less able to get around, do not have computers, and who have not filled out one of McCreight's questionnaires,  could pick up a questionnaire at City Hall or the drug store and, perhaps, assist them in filling it out; and then drop it off at City Hall for them.

To reach Sandi McCreight directly, e-mail her at: agefriendlylowercolumbia@gmail.com , or phone her at 250-365-7678.


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