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Local preference sought for move

The Mid-Columbia Council of Governments will ask the state to waive rules that make it unlikely that the new administrators of the Area Agency on Aging will be from the local area.

MCCOG, a 40-year-old five-county entity that runs a handful of local and regional services, anticipates dissolving itself by Jan. 31.

One of its key services is the AAA, which helps seniors, including funding for Meals on Wheels programs. MCCOG briefly considered remaining as an entity so it could contract out AAA service to a local organization, Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc. (GOBHI), that is interested in taking over the work.

But that idea lost steam at an Oct. 24 meeting of MCCOG, and the board will officially notify the state it is not interested in retaining the AAA.

Instead, the board agreed to ask the State Unit on Aging to waive rules requiring the state to offer management of this AAA to other local governments and AAAs before offering it to a non-government entity like GOBHI.

The MCCOG interim director, David Meriwether, said he believes that one of the 10 other AAAs in Oregon is likely to express interest in administering this AAA. If the current procedure is followed, he believed administration of the local AAA would go to another AAA.

Deb McCuin, a program analyst with the State Unit on Aging, told the MCCOG board it could not keep the AAA agency and then subcontract the administration of it to another entity such as GOBHI.

“You own it, you run it,” she said.

MCCOG board member Paul Blackburn said AAA had felt like a “donor program” under MCCOG, and that it was asked to pay too much toward administration of MCCOG.

While the MCCOG board considered staying in existence just to provide an official home for AAA, Blackwell said, “If there’s a cost savings in going with another group then maybe we have to. There’s no point in keeping it here when it’s drowning.”

Paul Zastrow, who is chair of the senior advisory committee to AAA locally, said he didn’t think keeping MCCOG alive just to help GOBHI was an efficient use of people’s time.

McCuin said the federal law her agency was following required her to give preference to other AAAs in considering who to allow to take over administration of the local AAA.

She said, “Preference is preference… so we will exercise our preference.”

Scott McKay, who sits on the advisory board for the local AAA, said the board wanted to see administration of the AAA be as local and cost effective as possible.

He said they didn’t want it to become “a revenue source for whatever agency it goes under.”

He said going under the auspices of another AAA “isn’t appealing” because of concerns that it would become “assumed and possibly lost,” and that services might not be a focus in these rural counties.

Advisory board member Joan Silver said her concerns were what role the volunteers who help with AAA would have, and whether a AAA from another area would “have enough presence in our area to be sufficient and successful.”

But he also didn’t relish the idea of this AAA getting absorbed into a larger AAA. “We’d lose our voice,” he feared.

Silver said if a AAA in Bend or Salem took over the local AAA, she would not be able to travel that far to serve on their senior advisory committee.

And while all five counties are represented on the current advisory committee, it was unlikely the area would retain that much representation on a new, larger advisory committee the AAA would get absorbed into.

An official with the State Unit on Aging said there is an economy of scale with joining another AAA, and other smaller AAA’s had been absorbed into larger ones in the state, who could be contacted for their views of how it went.

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