Asked to make budget cuts, county departments join forces to save money

RBC | In the face of anticipated revenue reductions next year, the Rio Blanco County commissioners asked all of the county’s department heads to look for ways to cut expenses from 2-8 percent. For Jennifer O’Hearon, who oversees the county’s public health, social services and senior nutrition departments, finding a way to make cuts in the senior nutrition program meant finding a way to cut costs without cutting services to the county’s seniors. The answer for O’Hearon came in the form of a contracted agreement with the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office and a change in the way Meeker’s Chuckwagon meals are prepared and provided. “I think we have a really good program,” said Deborah Barney, nutrition director for Rio Blanco County’s senior nutrition program. For 20 years Barney has overseen the program that provides homemade, healthy meals for seniors four times a week. In January, Barney will be out of a job because of budget cuts. She found out, along with the seniors, about the changes two weeks ago, and said she thinks the seniors should have had a say in the decision. “They (the seniors) like it as it is.” In Meeker the Chuckwagon attendance at the Fairfield Center is about 30 seniors, plus six homebound meals. A similar program in Rangely has also been under Barney’s oversight. O’Hearon and Rio Blanco County Sheriff Anthony Mazzola were present at Monday’s Chuckwagon to answer questions and concerns from the seniors present. Besides the loss of Barney’s position, the changes will mean food will no longer be prepared at the Fairfield Center by Shona Richardson. The Sheriff’s Office will hire a full-time cook to prepare meals for the jail and for Chuckwagon. Hossack will transport the senior meals from the Justice Center to the Fairfield Center. Richardson’s 3/4 time position will drop to a part time position. According to O’Hearon, “The seniors won’t see much of a change.” Meals will still be prepared according to the same menu and recipes mandated by state statutes. “It also opens up the (Fairfield) kitchen to be rented during the week,” she said. During the past year, the cost per plate for a Chuckwagon meal has ranged from $18 to $32. That includes all overhead expenses, which are only offset by donations. “These changes cut the cost to $10 per plate,” O’Hearon explained. “It will still be Chuckwagon, just cooked at the jail.” For the Sheriff’s Department, meals until now were prepared by jailers. Hiring a cook to work Monday through Friday will free up one of the jailers for regular duties. Mazzola said he wants to give the seniors input on who will be hired as the cook, and said the decision should save taxpayer money by combining resources while offering the same services to the county’s seniors.