It was coffee and cookies and civics at the Mayor’s Office for Senior Citizens January 19, one of the many events and activities that the city provides for seniors who have served their communities.
Each month the office taps a local official to talk to community elders about city services. This month was my opportunity to have coffee and cookies with some of these experienced citizens and talk about my responsibilities at City Hall.
During my too-short hour, I had the chance to tell them how we balance the city’s budget and how carefully the City Council works to preserve the services that they’ve come to rely upon. I explained that, in these difficult times, the council has focused on public safety and direct human services as the city’s core responsibilities. But that we also worked hard to keep our neighborhoods strong, how we restored the neighborhood matching fund and tried to hold senior services harmless.
The seniors asked questions about a wide range of city services, including parks and recreation and the pedestrian master plan. We also touched on numerous opportunities for seniors, starting with the “Gold Card,” designed for seniors age 60 and above, and the FLASH card for adults with disabilities. Both cards list phone numbers for information and assistance and entitle holders to certain discounts for events, good and services.
We also touched on the city’s energy and utility assistance programs. These programs are available to low-income seniors for Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utility customers. There also is a special rate that allows low-income seniors to access basic TV cable.
Among the questions I had from the audience were several devoted to Metro, which – as it happens – is a King County responsibility, not a city service. And, while I wasn’t able to answer specific questions about Metro services, Monica Ghosh, my legislative aide, took down names and phone numbers so that we can help these seniors resolve complaints about Metro. After a vigorous discussion, no one could doubt the seniors depend on good public transportation.
One of their other questions involved the Seattle Public Library system and why some of the branch libraries have shorter hours than others. The Library, although it receives city money, has a Seattle Library Board that governs its day-to-day operations. In these tough times, the Library Board has identified branch that most heavily use service. It has kept open one library in each city region open longer hours. Librarians have voluntarily arranged to shut the system for one unpaid week at the end of August in order to ensure that collections are strong and all 26 branch libraries are open at least 35 hours a week.
The session was a brisk one and over far too soon. Our seniors have a good grasp of what matters most to those who live in the city and they are generous in sharing their concerns and solutions. One apparently unaddressed concern is about the senior centers which the city helps to fund. The centers have not been a high priority item. As one senior citizen commented, we’re all growing older and living longer and, now that the first of the Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age, we can and should do a better job.
The coffee and cookies were good and the food for thought was excellent.