By BECKY HARRIS
LOG CABIN DEMOCRAT
Unless another funding source is found soon, the Faulkner County Senior Citizens Center will discontinue providing individual transportation for senior citizens within the City of Conway, beginning Feb. 18.
The program for seniors will continue to provide meals and activities at its senior citizen centers, meals delivered to homebound individuals and transportation to and from its centers.
About 260 individuals were provided 11,000 "life necessary" trips in 2010, said Debra Robinson, executive director.
"Transportation from peoples’ homes to other destinations — such as doctors’ appointments — has always been an optional service the Senior Citizens Program has been willing and able to provide," Robinson said.
"For some," she said, "it is the last thread that allows them to remain independently at home."
In the past, the City of Conway has provided funding for that portion of the service.
A recent request for $45,000 from the city was not approved, Robinson said.
Lowell McClanahan, the city’s interim finance director, said on Saturday that the city’s budget woes continue.
"I’m sorry this is happening to that fine program, but the city is situated where it cannot fund that type of activity," McClanahan said. "I wish we had a lot of money and could do that, but we don’t.
"A silver lining may be that someone or some group will rise up and meet that need, because we as Americans do that sort of thing. It’s a legitimate need. I hope someone does come forward."
Mayor Tab Townsell said he feels bad that the city is no longer able to provide the service.
Transportation for communities was provided by the federal government years ago, and when that funding was discontinued, the City of Conway began picking up that expense for its people, Townsell said on Saturday.
"For years, we provided transportation funding help for the Senior Citizens Center, the Boys and Girls Club and the Faulkner County Council for Developmental Disabiities, but because of the city’s decreased resources, we are no longer able to do that," Townsell said. "We realize there are people in our community who do not have the means to get where they need to go, but the city’s first priority has to be police, fire, sanitation.
"Perhaps we can encourage folks to be good neighbors and give a neighbor a ride."
The senior program dipped into its reserves for six weeks to continue the service to individuals, costing $3,750 monthly.
"To continue providing the service without funding would jeopardize everything else the program does," Robinson said. "We have explored numerous other funding options, but satisfactory alternatives have not been found."
Robinson said if the service is discontinued, it will be difficult to restart.
She explained, "The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has liens on all five of the Senior Citizens buses used to transport senior adults. The AHTD reviews the number of people transported each quarter, and unless these vehicles are being used as intended, they will be recalled and placed in communities where they can be of greater service.
"Once this service is lost within our community, it will not easily or quickly be brought back."
Robinson said many of the people using this service are confined to wheelchairs and many have indicated that without this service they would be in nursing homes.
"We regret deeply the impact that discontinuing this service will have on the elderly community," Robinson said.
(Becky Harris can be reached at 505-1234 or firstname.lastname@example.org)