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County drops Thurmont's senior center

Stephanie Mlot
Frederick News Post

(6/8) The Frederick County Department of Aging is eliminating its programs at the Thurmont Senior Center.

Citing disputes with local officials and volunteers, the Frederick County Commissioners voted 4-1 on Tuesday night to remove county staffing and programs from the senior center as of July 1. Commissioner Paul Smith opposed the motion.

The county will provide the town of Thurmont with a $13,000 one-time grant next year as a contribution toward serving food at the center. The county will also arrange transportation for seniors who live in Thurmont to go to the Emmitsburg Senior Center instead, and will expand its home-delivered meal program in the area. The county was spending $115,500 a year -- including $56,000 from a federal grant -- to operate the Thurmont program, which included staffing costs. Senior citizens pay $4.80 per meal.

From October 2010 through April, the Thurmont center served 1,300 meals to 56 people.

The problems started years ago, county officials said, when those serving on the Thurmont Senior Center Board started complaining about the quality of food the county was serving at the center.

But the county officials, who get a grant to pay for the food, said they couldn't find another vendor that could meet grant nutrition and transportation requirements. The same company, Business Food Solutions Inc., provides food to Emmitsburg, Frederick and Brunswick senior centers, but the only complaints have come from Thurmont, said Carolyn True, director of the Frederick County Department of Aging.

The county will save about $46,000 by eliminating the Thurmont program, but commissioners said that was not the reason for doing so. They said instead that it makes sense to get out of the way and allow people in Thurmont to operate the center the way they see fit.

"We have kind of two groups that we just can't cohabitate, can't seem to work out the glitches and get along," said Commissioners President Blaine Young.

Thurmont Mayor Marty Burns said he couldn't believe he was in Winchester Hall on Tuesday night speaking about Thurmont's senior center program being eliminated.

"What started off as someone asking for a simple 'Can we improve the food?' turned into pulling the funding out of our senior center -- are you kidding me?" he said.

Thurmont officials had complained because the food is brought from Baltimore and placed on warming dishes at 9 a.m. It is not served until several hours later. They also complained when the center's director went on long-term sick leave and was not replaced by the county.

Burns said the town is like a family whose members fight among themselves, but everyone is in it together. He criticized the commissioners for singling out Thurmont.

"If you want to do this for everyone in the county, I'd still object, but then you've got something," Burns said. "But don't do that to (just) our senior center."

Louise Lynch, chairwoman of the Frederick County Commission on Aging, called relations between the county and different Thurmont factions an "ongoing, festering problem." The commission supported pulling county support, she said.

Frederick County Commissioner Billy Shreve agreed with that recommendation, and said the county could transfer to Emmitsburg the services it had been providing in Thurmont, serve more people than are being served now, and do it for a lower cost.

"We're spending a lot of money and effort and no one's happy," Shreve said.

Thurmont town commissioners asked the county to continue to provide its services, and senior center volunteers painted differing views of the food and services offered there.

Barbara Smith served on the Thurmont Senior Center board before she resigned as president in January. She said the food is not bad and those complaining about it don't even eat it.

"The (senior center) board wants all the glory. Well, if they want all the glory, then let them have it," she said.

Others said they were simply concerned about the quality. Helen Deluca, a Senior Commission and Senior Center board of directors member, said the food wasn't appetizing.

Glenn Muth, a commissioner in Thurmont, said he was surprised the county couldn't work with the town on the issues.

He said he hadn't eaten the food at the center, but said he wouldn't go to McDonald's if the food was sitting there for hours.

The $13,000 grant from the county will come from the general fund and won't have the same restrictions as the state and federal grants that pay for the current food contract.

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