Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Several senior citizens sneered at members of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night, after waiting over an hour for information about fee increases at the county's senior centers, only to be told that information would be given to them today.
"The director [of Clayton County Senior Services, Mary Byrd] will issue further direction [on the fee increases] tomorrow [Wednesday]," County Attorney Michael Smith told seniors at the meeting.
"What?" chimed many in attendance at the meeting. "This is like a second slap in the face," said Kevin Jamison, a Henry County resident, with a Jonesboro address.
Seniors have been protesting fee increases since they were approved on Dec. 7, 2010. Under the new fee plan, which went into effect on Jan. 1, in-county residents' fees went from $1 a year, to $12 a year, and out-of-county fees went from $10 per year, to $180 per year. Meal costs at the centers increased by $1.
Jamison is a paying member of the J. Charley Griswell Senior Center, in Jonesboro, and has led the fight to get the county to honor one-year membership contracts set to expire in June of this year.
The impact of the higher fees already is being felt, said Riverdale resident, Barbara Middleton, a Frank Bailey Senior Center member. "I can't go anymore, because my friends aren't there anymore," said Middleton, referring to out-of-county members.
County officials said the increases were to offset declining grant funds.
Seniors have protested the hikes since December. On Tuesday, Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell told the 70 protesting seniors the commission was going to discuss the issue in an executive session.
But, instead of a response, County Attorney Smith told seniors they had to wait to find out more information. Bell said Smith, and other county attorneys, instructed commissioners not to discuss the fee issue. Bell was the only commissioner to oppose the fee increase.
Another out-of-county user, Aisha Abdur-Rahman, of neighboring Fayette County, said officials should have consulted people who use the centers to find ways to cut costs. Abdur-Rahman said she uses the Griswell Center, and the Frank Bailey Senior Center in Riverdale, because "Clayton County senior centers have it going on" in terms of the number of programs offered for seniors.
She said the centers could reduce operating costs by lowering thermostats, or not heating the center's pools on days when aquatics classes are not being held. She added that Bailey Center users are also given free memberships to the nearby Virginia Burton Gray Recreation Center, which offers some of the same amenities that the Bailey Center offers, including a heated pool and an indoor walking track.
"We want to have a say in this," Abdur-Rahman said. "There's lots of ways to cut expenses. Just ask us." She later added, "We go to these centers every day. We know how the centers are being used."