Agency seeks to leave MCCOG

The new director of the Area Agency on Aging, which has long been housed in the Mid-Columbia Council of Governments, proposes separating from that entity in a bid for cost savings.

“The AAA can no longer sustain growing indirect cost in the MCCOG model, at the expense of programs and services,” AAA Director Caroline Wood wrote in a report to the AAA’s advisory council.

She proposed the AAA leave MCCOG and come under an existing but underused non-profit organization called Seniors Matter, a move that could save $60,000.

If approved by the MCCOG board, the AAA advisory council could name Wood to be executive director of this new entity as soon as July 1. Wood has previous experience directing a non-profit of a similar size.

The proposal is welcome news for Denise Patton, director of The Dalles Meals on Wheels, which saw its federal funding from AAA drop sharply eight years ago.

AAA provides federal dollars to 11 meals programs in its five-county service area. Patton said her program received a $40,000 cut from AAA funding in 2008 and hasn’t recovered that lost amount since.

Wood said she hopes the MCCOG board opts to discuss her proposal. “I’m really motivated to help make sure our nutrition sites get great allocations. That’s a primary passion of mine.”

The AAA advisory board met Tuesday to discuss Wood’s proposal. She hopes that board will present a favored option to the MCCOG board.

She said the region her AAA serves has almost 9,000 seniors. “and I want so much to give them the best we can for the money we receive.”

AAA helps fund a variety of services, including senior meals, caregiver support, medication management and elder abuse prevention.

Wood said in a report to the advisory council that the pass-through rate of federal funds to nutrition programs has been between 44 percent and 66 percent over the past 10 years. By law, indirect costs to the AAA program are to be limited to 10 percent, but they are at 25 percent of grants now, she said. Wood said the AAA needs the ability to direct policy and governance as well as control cost.She proposes it be co-located with the current offices of the state Aging and People with Disabilities office at the Port of The Dalles.

AAA represents 6 percent of the MCCOG budget, or $730,000 out of a total $12.3 million. MCCOG’s other main departments are transportation and building codes. Two other smaller departments are there also.

She noted that while AAA accounts for 6 percent of the MCCOG budget, “we pay for 25 percent of the facility costs. Our cost allocation will nearly double next [fiscal year.]”

“We have had a 6 percent increase in expenses,” she wrote, while funding “has only increased .58 percent annually on average. This is an unsustainable situation.”

MCCOG cut receptionist hours by a third, and since AAA is the biggest user of the receptionist, it has to pick up the slack, further eating into resources. An automated phone service is a barrier for clients with hearing and cognitive impairments, she said.The AAA budget pays out $58,800 in MCCOG staff costs, $117,000 in materials services and $60,200 in indirect cost allocations

The goal is to free up more federal dollars to directly help seniors.

A March 19 report to the MCCOG board from Wood listed four options for improving AAA’s efficiency, “with reduced administrative, indirect and overhead costs.”

In addition to her preferred option of joining in with the Seniors Matter non-profit, other options included seeking proposals from area non-profits to house AAA, linking to regional non-profits, or keeping it with MCCOG but finding ways to reduce overhead costs.

Wood recommended MCCOG name a committee to make recommendations on how to proceed.

She said MCCOG was established in 1979 as a cooperative partnership to gain efficiencies for local governments.

The AAA began providing services within MCCOG in 1981, she wrote, but “For the AAA, this partnership’s fiscal burden has exceeded the effective/efficient model COG partnerships provide.” She said the funding of top tier staff has increased approximately 3 percent yearly. Overhead and indirect budget allocations are not within the AAA’s control.

Wood said keeping AAA within the MCCOG, but reducing the administrative overhead, would force MCCOG’s four other departments to take on that extra cost. She said the non-profit model is the most adaptable to a rural setting. She noted most AAAs in the state outside of urban areas are non-profits, and not part of COGs.

“A nonprofit can benefit from grants, fundraising, leveraging partnerships to gain a wealth of resources to the benefit of the giver and receiver,” Wood wrote.

“Doing so directly greatly reduces administrative, overhead, and indirect costs.”

She said the nation is aging as the Baby Boomer generation grows older, and the Mid-Columbia has more people over age 65 than the state or national average. For example, 13 percent of the nation is 65 or older, while 20.3 percent of Wasco County is.

She said it was “imperative” to be cost effective with federal funds in order to serve the expanding older population.

In her report, Wood noted that in 2012 the state reviewed the MCCOG and made 23 findings, most of which have not been met or addressed to meet standards.

Those that have are of little significance financially, she wrote.

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