Norwich - The City Council will hold a public hearing Monday on an ordinance allocating $15,500 to the local Meals on Wheels program to fill a federal funding gap, but the mayor and five aldermen already have signed on to support the measure.
For the past 40 years, Norwich has been the only municipality of the 36 served by Thames Valley Council on Community Action's senior nutrition program that has not contributed an annual stipend to help fund Meals on Wheels.
That situation was brought to the fore last month when the automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration hit the Meals on Wheels program with a $66,000 reduction in funding. Other member towns - all of which provide annual funding to the agency - chipped in to cover gaps in their towns.
Without supplemental funding from Norwich, meal delivery was cut from four days a week to one day a week, with the 122 recipients receiving a freezer-full of meals for the week on Mondays. Lost have been the wellness checks that Meals on Wheels delivery drivers make for all participating seniors when delivering meals.
The City Council will hold a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Monday on a proposed ordinance to allocate the supplemental funding through June 30, the end of the city's fiscal year. Republican Mayor Peter Nystrom, Democratic Alderwoman and mayoral candidate Deberey Hinchey and four other aldermen have co-sponsored the ordinance.
Alderman Mark Bettencourt, whose wife, Tia, works for the Meals on Wheels program, will abstain from the vote that is expected to follow the hearing.
If funding is approved, TVCCA Executive Director Deborah Monahan said the program could restore four-day deliveries in Norwich within one to two weeks.
"I'm sure that we're all kind of excited about this," she said of her staff. "We'll ramp up right away."
With supporters sitting in the audience holding signs reading "Please Support Meals on Wheels," Monahan addressed the City Council Oct. 18. Aldermen called a recess during that night's meeting to write a quick funding ordinance to cover the shortfall.
Wording in the ordinance says that the total allocation would be reduced by the amount of any private donations or alternative funding the agency might receive. State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, is pursuing possible state funding to cover the cut.
City Manager Alan Bergren also launched a city employee donation drive allowing Norwich city, school and public utilities employees to donate through payroll deduction or via a one-time contribution to the program. Bergren said Friday that it's too early to know how the fund drive is going.
He also said that when TVCCA's annual letter seeking funding in the regular budget comes later this month, he will honor the request and put the funding in his proposed 2014-15 city budget to be released in April.
Monahan said the annual amount needed from Norwich is $18,602, not including any amount that might be needed to cover the sequestration cuts.
The cuts could be in effect for 10 years, but Monahan said she won't include that in her funding requests to all participating towns because she cannot predict whether Congress will act to reverse the cuts or whether the state or other agencies will help fill the gap.
This year's cuts hit at the end of March, but TVCCA received funding from the state Department on Aging, and the regional Area Agency on Aging filled the gap until Oct. 1.