The Royal Palm Beach Village Council last week gave its seal of approval to a report studying senior services in the community and took action on funding a program to help senior citizens get around the community a bit more easily.
At the Thursday, June 15 meeting, consultant Phil Gonot of PMG Associates shared his final report with the council on ways to improve senior services in the village.
“We looked at a radius of about 10 miles of the village and who’s providing services in that area,” Gonot said. “There is a total of 48 different organizations. Some of them do multiple things, so they were listed several times. But what we do have is an inventory of what they do, how they provide services and what they can provide to your citizens.”
The council received Gonot’s verbal report and responded to each point that was proposed. One of the biggest concerns and issues that the council, the Senior Citizen Ad-Hoc Advisory Board, Gonot and the community had addressed is the need for improvements to transportation services for the senior citizen population in Royal Palm Beach.
Like he did at the senior advisory board meeting the week before, Gonot explained the three types of senior transportation programs that he looked at: a fixed-route trolley system, a subsidized taxi program called STAR (Senior Transportation and Rides) and a door-through-door escorted rides program.
Two of these systems are available in Wellington. The Village of Wellington finances a STAR system, offering a fixed number of taxi rides monthly to qualifying seniors. The local nonprofit Wellington Cares, meanwhile, offers a volunteer-based door-through-door escorted rides program.
In his report, Gonot recommended that Royal Palm Beach adopt some form of a STAR system and escorted rides. A trolley system would be too expensive for the village or a nonprofit to operate, he said, costing as much as $300,000 annually.
Mayor Fred Pinto saw the STAR system as something that the village could adopt and add to its budget before it could see the establishment of a new nonprofit organization within the community to address senior needs, which was another of Gonot’s suggestions.
“That’s something I’d like to see fast-tracked as much as possible to see how quickly we can actually get that service in place,” Pinto said. “I’d like to ask the village manager to include at least $40,000 to $45,000 in the coming fiscal year budget to address as part of the STAR system.”
The council agreed that $45,000 would be added to the upcoming budget to launch a STAR system. Village Manager Ray Liggins said he would be able to have the amount added to the budget, which will be discussed at an upcoming budget workshop.
Pinto and the council are scheduled to meet with Palm Tran Connection to discuss the potential for its transportation service to participate in the subsidized taxi program that the village wants to offer in the community moving forward.
In regard to creating a nonprofit foundation to serve Royal Palm Beach seniors, Pinto sees the already operating Young at Heart group as a potential place to create a subcommittee to add volunteer services that could offer things such as escorted rides.
“I don’t think we’re starting from scratch, because I really look toward Young at Heart as being the foundational place where this can be a task that they can undertake, hopefully, and create their own subcommittee of folks who want to volunteer and work on this,” Pinto said. “We provide funding today for Young at Heart. We have for years.”
The idea of losing momentum on senior issues was broached during the meeting, and Pinto said it is important to keep a focus on senior needs.
“This is not a momentum issue,” he said. “This is part of the reason why we commissioned this study to begin with, because we are concerned. We recognize that there are needs in our community for our senior citizens that were not being met.”
Whether the village sees the establishment of an organization separate from the municipality or it asks the Young at Heart group to add a new role to its framework, a staff person probably is needed to provide leadership for the new services that would be offered.
“In terms of who’s in charge, we’re going to task our village manager and staff to begin coming up with real answers for these questions, so that we can move forward,” Pinto said. “We want to have a plan, and we want to work the plan once we put that plan together.”
Liggins said that regarding a proposed staff person, it may not fall on the shoulders of one individual, but rather be a role that is shared among several people.
“I understand the need for a full-time employee if we are to assume a lot more responsibility for a service that we’re not providing now, but it might not be just one person. It may be part of three people’s jobs, and we’ll figure that out as we go forward,” Liggins said. “What’s most important is the needs part and where we’re going in providing services.”
Vice Mayor Richard Valuntas said that volunteers can also be found among adults younger than the senior citizen age range.
“Don’t just look to the senior community for volunteers,” Valuntas said. “I definitely would like to help be a volunteer for a program if one was started. I think there are probably a lot of people more in my age bracket who would also like to help.”
Judith Kohler, a member of the Senior Citizen Ad-Hoc Advisory Board, also addressed the council on senior issues, bringing with her a report that was added to the minutes of the advisory board meeting discussing how to move forward.
“These are just my suggestions about implementation, and I looked at it in three phases,” Kohler said.
Her report focused on the improvement of transportation services, the need for a staff person to be involved and the help of volunteers.
Councilwoman Selena Smith made a motion to approve the report by PMG Associates, adding Kohler’s report to the agenda item. It was seconded by Councilman Jeff Hmara and passed unanimously.