Getting Older in Cecil: More Seniors Need Services

September 28, 2009

   The new U.S. Census Bureau “American Community Survey” finds that in 2008, 11.1 percent of Cecil County residents were age 65 or over.  But longer term state projections estimate the senior population will more than double and reach about 15.3 percent of the county’s overall population by 2030.

  Cecil County needs to start planning now for the infrastructure of transportation, health care and support services that these seniors will need within the next twenty years, especially in the more rural areas of the county where even the most basic services are all but non-existant.

    The new Census snapshot ranks Cecil County 10th out of 16 of the larger counties (and Baltimore City), with Allegany County having the highest proportion (18.3 percent) of residents age 65 or over and Charles County the lowest, with just 8.4 percent.

   Maryland planners project that Cecil County’s overall population will grow to 155,800 by 2030, with seniors age 65 and over accounting for 24,970– or about 15.3 percent of the total– up from an estimated 11,250 in 2010. (By way of comparison, in Florida, the land of retirement, seniors now account for 17.4 percent of the population.)

    The Census survey found that nearly 34 percent of seniors now living in Cecil County have disabilities, with “ambulatory difficulty” the most prevalent problem. As more seniors are unable to drive, their access to what few services exist becomes impossible.

    The county began operating “The Bus” a few years ago with regular,  scheduled routes serving the northern part of the county and primarily delivering passengers to Delaware for connections to the DART system and job sites. But for southern Cecil seniors, it takes advance scheduling to get to a doctor’s appointment in Elkton and senior services provided at the county’s office building on Route 40 are but a distant dream.

  Excellent, and expanding, medical services are available in Middletown, DE but there is no public transit from Cecil County.  As previously reported here, Christiana Care is planning to build an emergency hospital and, most likely, a full service hospital near Route 1 in Middletown.  How will the future seniors of southern Cecil County get there?

    Then there are the basics of food. There are no supermarkets and only a handful of shops offering the most basic groceries south of the canal. The vacant businesses in Cecilton are a natural location and county (and town) planners and economic development officials should prioritize bring these services to the area.

    One bright spot on the horizon is former Commissioner William Manlove’s farewell present to seniors: putting a seniors and community center facility in Cecilton into the Capital Plan shortly before he left office. So far, it has survived in the most recent Capital Plan adoped by current commissioners in April, 2009.

     The senior center is expected to cost $1.6 million, with $800,000 from the state and $558,000 from the county, plus the value of land expected to be donated by the town. So far, the county is projecting funds will be provided in Fiscal 2011 and Fiscal 2012. But with the current state fiscal crisis and tight county funds, don’t consider this a done deal.

     It is not too soon for seniors, and many future seniors who plan to grow old in this county, to insist that our County Commissioners and county departments start planning and delivering services to seniors, especially in the rural areas of the county.

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CECIL COUNTY U.S. CENSUS: Rising incomes–and ages

September 24, 2009

    The just released interim U.S. Census estimated data, under the “American Community Survey” for 2008, provides a snapshot of just how Cecil County fares in comparison with the rest of the state in many areas, from income to education levels to senior citizen population to workers’ commuting distances.

   This is a treasure trove of information and data that is not easily digested in a moment. But our analysis of the new data provides some interesting information for citizens and our County Commissioners to keep in mind as they make decisions that affect all of us.

We all want to know where we “rank” in comparision with the rest of the state, given that Cecil County usually has either an inferiority complex or an assertive “so who gives a dam*” attitude about the rest of the state. So far in our analysis, Cecil County ranks #10 out of 16 jurisdictions in the state on both median household income and proportion of the population aged 65 or over. In other words, a bit below average…

The national Census Bureau report concluded that the state of Maryland was the richest in the nation, with median household income of $70,545 a year. (“Median” means the midpoint, with half the households above and half below that income level.) For Cecil County, the median income was $68,338, placing Cecil County at number 10 within the state—with 6 subdivisions poorer and 9 richer. (NOTE: this survey does not include smaller counties in the state, such as Kent, Somerset and Garrett.)

(See Chart Below)

Maryland 70,545 +/-622
Allegany County 39,871 +/-3,668
Anne Arundel County 83,285 +/-2,801
Baltimore County 63,128 +/-2,071
Calvert County 81,662 +/-4,197
Carroll County 78,653 +/-3,185
Cecil County 68,338 +/-5,436
Charles County 87,030 +/-4,323
Frederick County 78,728 +/-3,844
Harford County 77,085 +/-2,705
Howard County 102,540 +/-3,151
Montgomery County 94,319 +/-2,084
Prince George’s County 72,166 +/-1,809
St. Mary’s County 80,624 +/-5,214
Washington County 51,503 +/-2,896
Wicomico County 49,186 +/-3,656
Baltimore city 40,313 +/-1,482
     

    Frankly, we are a bit surprised that Cecil County even does this well.  The Maryland Department of Planning interim estimates of income for Cecil County, previously estimated for the same 2008 period, estimated a  much lower $63,850 median household income.  We will be contacting the statistical gurus at the Maryland State Data Center in the next few days for their evaluation of the new U.S. Census data versus their own lower estimates.

    One of the key indicators of future quality-of-life issues and community needs is the population aged 65 and over. The county’s planning study by the distinquished SAGE research group from Baltimore, as well as projections by the state Planning Department, estimate that Cecil County faces about a two-fold increase in the senior citizen population. So far, the new U.S. Census data only reflects where we are, not where we will be, but the data indicate Cecil County must seriously begin to plan for an aging population.

 (MORE ON THIS ISSUE IN OUR NEXT POST ON THE CECIL TIMES)


Cecil Tech School: Vote for Fairness– and Your Stove!

September 17, 2009

   As Cecil County copes with cutbacks in state funds, we are faced with choices on planning–and paying for– our future needs. One of the most important decisions for our newly elected school board– and County Commissioners– will be on prioritizing the long-proposed and much delayed “comprehensive high school”– otherwise known as a four-year School of  Technology.

   By way of history, the current School of Technology is  a part-time ‘trade” school, offered on a part-time basis to juniors and seniors at regular, comprehensive high schools in the county.  In late 2006, a previous Board of Commissioners– after listening to the Chamber of Commerce, BEPAC and economic development officials as well as parents– manned up and pushed the “comprehensive high school” into top priority planning funds under the county’s Capital Plan.  Thanks to former Elkton High School Principal Nelson Bolender (and then County Commissioner) for leading the initiative, along with former Commissioner Harry Hepbron, a self-made businessman who had long advocated education and technical training to promote job development.

   But under our new Board of Commissioners, a new, expanded School of Technology has been put on the back burner.  This is despite the fact that only about 16 percent of Cecil County adults had four-year college degrees in the last census (and maybe up to 19 percent, thanks to newcomers in the northern part of the county, under 2008 estimates by the state.)  So where are the jobs, and the requisite training, for the many Cecil County young people who do not have the money, inclination, or smarts to pursue a four-year college degree?

   This all becomes a crucial issue right now as the elected Board of  Education is facing an imminent decision on whether to support an improved School of Technology– or bow to some demands for  nickel and dime capital improvements to local schools.

   We are pleased that the Cecil Whig actually addressed this issue, in a news report earlier this week, reporting that the School Board is considering several options on the tech school proposal. The School Board has to decide whether to place the tech school at the top of its school construction priority list– so as to request state school construction funding– or whether to lower it to 5th on the priority list (a guarantee that the state of Maryland will do nothing to help advance the project, given the current budget crisis).

   The final option for the county school board would be to drop the new tech school off its priority list entirely– a prescription for killing the school entirely.

     Now, about our stove….

    If you think you have nothing at stake in this debate, you should look in your kitchen.  Do you have a new stove, with lots of electronic bells and whistles and LCD’s? How about your frig?  Have you tried to get them repaired recently, especially if you live in a rural area of Cecil County? Well, we have.

   To make many days of phone calls, web searches and other angst short, our stove cannot be repaired because we live in Cecil County. No one available, or a three- week wait, we were told. Oh, so you are close to the Delaware line? No, we can’t service you because you are in Cecil County.

    Let’s face it: not everyone in Cecil County is a rocket scientist. If they were, they would not live here because there are no jobs for them.  But we have a  serious need for skilled tech and repair services that people desperately need, but the future tech workers need the training to do these jobs.

    If the School Board could approve spending for Chinese language instruction a few years ago– so how many people really benefit from that– why won’t they approve funds for a new, expanded tech school? It isn’t fair to spend funds on a limited use program like that while the vast majority of students, who need technical training for the jobs of the future, are left out.

    So contact the School Board and the Cecil County Commissioners to support putting a new four-year School of Technology/ or “comprehensive high school” at the top of the capital priority list. You owe it to the kids of this county– and to your stove!

———————————

UPDATE:  We finally got our stove fixed, thanks to the online website of www.sears.com

  We bought our stove from Lowes, which basically did nothing to help us, and after many hours on the phone with Kitchenaid, we were told we were on our own. But Lo and behold, Sears came through for us, even though we did not buy our stove from them.

   No, we don’t get paid anything by Sears, but we must tell other Cecil County residents that you can, no matter how rural the area in which you live, get appliance services from Sears via an online appointment and toll free phone service!

   Oh, and when our wonderful Sears guy came to repair our stove, he told us he got his training at a Technical High School, plus subsequent on the job training. He agreed that we must have more Tech School programs and training to help our kids and consumers to get the help they all need!

SECOND UPDATE: The School Board and the County Commissioners must not have quirky stoves in their kitchens, since they abandoned the Tech School and removed it from the five-year Capital Plan during the 2010 budget process. So there is no Tech School on the horizon and no hope for local students needing advanced technical training. But  this is an election year and citizens concerned about the issue can bring it up with candidates for School Board and County Commissioner to try to change the fate of a Tech School.


E.J. PIPKIN: Campaigning in Cecil, but for what job?

September 9, 2009

   Our spies around the county tell us that State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, was in full campaign mode on Route 213 in Cecil County on Wednesday morning, waving from a pick up truck with aides holding signs declaring, “Pipkin for State Senate.” Now that would seem like the declarative statement many have been waiting for to answer the question: what is E.J. running for in 2010?

   But, no, like that movie ‘international man of mystery,’ Sen. Pipkin’s  signs do not necessarily reflect his intentions, according to an aide.

   “This was part of the Senator’s listening tour,” said Katie Nash, Pipkin’s Chief of Staff. “He’s continuing to listen to citizens,” she said, after doing similar roadside waves in Queen Anne’s County on Tuesday.  He will also be in Kent County on Thursday, waving signs to protest the Governor’s proposed closing of the Upper Shore Mental Health Center, she added.

   (As we were writing this post, we received an automated “robocall” from Pipkin urging us to call the Governor to protest the proposed closing of the Kent County facility as part of the latest budget cuts.)

   Although the signs said “Pipkin for State Senate,” that doesn’t necessarily mean he is indeed running for re-election to that post, the aide said. So he might still be looking at the Republican nomination to run against incumbent Democratic Congressman Frank Kratovil in the 1st District, or challenging Democratic incumbent state Comptroller Peter Franchot.

    If Pipkin does not seek re-election to the state Senate, we’d put our bets on the Comptroller slot. Republican State Sen. Andy Harris– who beat both Pipkin and former Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in the 1st District Congressional Republican primary two years ago– is already fund-raising for a general election re-match with Kratovil and has strong backing from the national Republican party. 

   Pipkin usually self-funds most of his campaigns, but given the uber price tags of the last 1st District Congressional race, there’s only so much self-funding a candidate can do. Federal campaigns are much more restrictive in donation rules than Maryland election law so it is virtually impossible to shift state campaign funds to a federal contest.

      So far in the 2010 state election cycle, Pipkin has raised a modest $60,348, with expenditures of $43,773. Most of his donations– 38 percent– came from Political Action Committees based in Maryland with 32 percent coming from  individual donors, according to state election records.

    Comptroller Franchot has been running a non-stop re-election campaign almost since the day he was elected but  it is not a job that most voters pay a lot of attention to until shortly before the election.  It’s a post that could be a good fit for Pipkin, with his Wall Street financial background, and the fact that it really doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting  day in and day out. 

 But it’s a job that does require a lot of campaigning and PR– remember Willie Don Schaefer, and before that Louie Goldstein? Not many voters had the slightest idea what they actually did in the job but they sure did campaign a lot.  Pipkin has shown he likes campaigning, a lot, and the Comptroller job might suit his style and aspirations.  A statewide win for the Comptroller slot would position him for a potential gubernatorial or U.S. Senate bid in the future.

   But he’d have his work cut out for him challenging Franchot, who is very popular in his home base in the populous Montgomery County  and other suburban areas of the state where Pipkin barely registered on the political pulse in his last statewide race against U.S. Sen. Barbara Milkulski.

    Meanwhile, as Sen. Pipkin waves signs that may or  may not signal his intentions, other Republicans are left in the lurch on whether they can aspire to his state Senate seat or not.  Del. Richard Sossi, R-36, has signaled his interest if Pipkin moves up or on. Sossi is one of the most visible members of the Cecil County delegation, even though he doesn’t actually live in the county.  Last time we checked his Twitter schedule, we were exhausted just contemplating all those community meetings he attends.