WEST ORANGE, NJ – Referring to senior transportation in West Orange “deplorable,” Degnan House resident Patricia Sigalas led the charge of township seniors who urged the West Orange Township Council to address this problem during Tuesday’s council meeting
Sigalas said that two recent incidents further convinced her that major changes need to be made in order to improve transportation options and reliability in the township. First, she heard from other seniors that the bus meant to transport guests to the Senior Citizen Prom at West Orange High School picked them up at the last minute.
Her main complaint was that the bus taking seniors to the Liberty Middle School play was cancelled when the bus service was told that only three seniors had signed up. Then they got back to her later in the week to tell the seniors that the bus was back on, she said, adding that the confusion discouraged seniors from attending this event. Once the bus was back on schedule, a few more seniors from the Renna House joined in.
“I can understand telling us that you need a minimum of 10 people to sign up, but not cancelling a bus after promising to take us no matter how many seniors signed up,” said Sigalas.
John Sayers, township business administrator, said he was the one who insisted that the seniors be taken to the show no matter how many because a promise had been made to them.
“In the future, we need to put a minimum number of seniors signing up for an event to guarantee transportation,” he said. “This might encourage more seniors to encourage their friends to attend the event.”
Resident Rosary Morelli said this type of mix-up shows that an action plan is needed to improve senior transportation and other services, as well as improving communications with older adults throughout the township.
“We need to have focus group meetings with seniors on an ongoing basis,” said Morelli. “This would lead to a senior action plan, and will further show the need for a Senior Advisory Board. We need a formalized, structured group to advocate for better senior services.”
Council President Susan McCartney agreed with both women, saying that an action plan should be put into place to address challenges facing township seniors.
“We have to communicate properly with the residents of both the Degnan House and Renna House in order to enable them to attend functions,” said Councilman Victor Cirilo, who also suggested that seniors consider going through the participatory budget process that the township has developed.
He said this process allows individuals or groups to suggest a project to be funded, and this could be a tool to fund a project offering additional senior services.
Councilwoman Michelle Casalino agreed that an action plan is needed in this area, but was not convinced that establishing a Senior Advisory Board is a good idea.
“I work well with advisory boards, which can have great ideas, but it’s up to the administration to implement these ideas,” said Casalino. “This is where it can often be frustrating for people who sit on advisory boards, because ultimately the administration sets the priorities.”
In other news, Casalino added that the municipal budget that will be presented at the next meeting. She said the budget includes hiring a part-time driver to take seniors to activities.