Sunday, October 2, 2022

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Commissioners could revisit vote against bailout for adult daycare

Alamance County’s commissioners may be about to revisit a decision they made two weeks ago to reject a request for a financial bailout from a nonprofit daycare center for mentally and developmentally disabled adults.

On April 19, the commissioners voted 3-to-2 against this $40,000 lifeline, which Friendship Adult Day Services had sought to cover its expenses while it awaits an expected state reimbursement later this year. On Monday, however, the commissioners agreed to schedule another review of the request after a material change in the daycare’s circumstances led one commissioner to reconsider his initial objection.

A private nonprofit that has traditionally operated out of a county-owned building in Burlington, Friendship Adult Day Services has never previously received any direct financial support from the county during its roughly four-decade existence. The daycare has nevertheless enjoyed a close relationship with the county that only became cozier in 2018 when a local philanthropist gave the county $3 million to construct some new digs for the center near the county’s human services center off of Graham-Hopedale Road.

The recent completion of this building proved something of a bittersweet moment for Connie Morse, Friendship’s executive director. Due to a run of bad luck that began with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, Morse had been forced to shutter the daycare and operate the nonprofit at a loss as she mobilized the center’s staff for the anticipated move. To make matters worse, Morse learned she would have to reapply for state certification in order to reopen the daycare in its new home.

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In light of these financial hardships, Morse approached the commissioners in the first week of April to request $50,000 so that she could reopen and operate the center while awaiting the first of the state reimbursements that have historically covered her costs.

Although her initial plea fell flat with a majority of the commissioners, Morse gained some valuable time to rework her pitch when an audience member spontaneously offered to loan her $10,000 to keep the daycare afloat. By the time that Morse returned to commissioners on April 19, she had secured an outright donation for another $10,000, which allowed her to pare back her original request to $40,000. Meanwhile, the county’s administrators had roughed out a potential contract with Friendship that the county’s interim manager said could be signed once the daycare was up and running in the new building.

Due to some complications with the state certification process, Morse wasn’t quite ready to occupy this facility when she approached the commissioners on April 19. Her request was consequently rejected by three of the five county commissioners, including Bill Lashley, who conceded that the daycare’s actual reopening would “change the ball game” for him.

Friendship’s proposed bailout didn’t appear on the agenda when the commissioners convened their next regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday. The daycare’s plight was nevertheless broached by two area residents, who took advantage of a designated public comment period to share their concerns with the commissioners.

Among those who approached the commissioners on Monday was Ramona Williams, whose elderly mother had been a regular at Friendship’s daycare prior to its pandemic-induced closure. Williams informed the commissioners that the daycare center had finally reopened earlier that day, which she acknowledged was no small delight for her mom.

“My 86-year-old mother was dancing in the house this morning,” Williams told the commissioners. “My mother has Alzheimer’s, and I’m her caregiver,” she went on to elaborate.

“We can take our family members there [to the daycare] and know they’re being taken care of…and I just want to see this facility succeed because it is such a vital part of the community.”

The commissioners heard a similar appeal from Tim Spears, who cares for his developmentally-disabled aunt and expressed high hopes about the social outlet she’ll have if the daycare continues to operate.

The pleas that the commissioners heard from these residents were reinforced by the county’s interim manager Sherry Hook, who acknowledged that she can move forward with Friendship’s proposed contract now that the daycare is open for business. Hook went on to suggest that the commissioners dip into the county’s general fund if they decide to approve the requested bailout – as opposed to their initial inclination to draw on the millions in federal pandemic relief funds that the county received under last year’s American Recovery Plan (ARP).

The choice under these circumstances was simple enough for commissioner Pam Thompson, who has been an enthusiastic supporter of Friendship’s proposed bailout ever since Morse first broached her request.

“She is open today,” reminded her fellow commissioners after Monday’s public comment period. “But I know she is probably counting on us to help them until their [state] funding comes in.

“I just think we really need to think about this,” Thompson added before she informed her colleagues that Morse had yet to secure a bank loan which had been her next best hope after the proposed bailout. “We have to take care of our elderly…and I will not let them be forgotten or [overlooked].”

Thompson’s pointed entreaties were nevertheless parried by John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners. Notwithstanding Hook’s recommendation to pay the bailout from the general fund, Paisley reminded his colleagues about the more than two dozen other agencies and nonprofit organizations that have also requested a share of the county’s federal pandemic relief funds.

“We are planning an ARP session in the future,” he added, “and I think that all these money decisions need to be on this agenda.”

Lashley, for his part, recalled his previous remark about the daycare’s reopening, and he pressed the county’s administrators to confirm the game-changing effect of this milestone.

“What can we do now that they’re open?” the commissioner inquired. “Is there anything we can do today to help these folks out?”

Although Hook seemed amenable to Lashley’s suggestion, the prospect of another vote Monday didn’t go over as well with the county’s interim attorney Debra Bechtel.

“It needs to be an agenda item for you to do this the way that you typically do business,” Bechtel told the commissioners. “Finance needs to look at this and legal needs to look at this,” she added.

With that, commissioner Steve Carter, who had previously joined Thompson in supporting the bailout, proposed that he and his colleagues add the item to their next meeting agenda. Lashley concurred with the proposal, which seemed to elicit a nod of assent from Paisley as well.

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