For the past year or so, community leaders in Cambridge have batted around how to better serve seniors.

Thoughts have included expanding social activities, perhaps tying into the twice-weekly senior meals that are provided at the Amundson Community Center.

Leading what so far has been a loose discussion have been leaders that include EMS Director Bob Salov, also a Dane County Board supervisor.

Talk has pointed recently to the idea of creating a village committee to coordinate senior programs, and to envision the future as Baby Boomers retire and the senior population balloons.

The notion came up once again at a listening session held in Cambridge on Oct. 14 with Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. But there was no definitive word at the Parisi event that the committee has yet been organized.

Hopefully, it will come together soon.

Once organized, it must talk early on about who’s running things.

The known reality is that two of Cambridge’s senior programs – the twice-weekly meals held at the Amundson Community Center and Dane County’s RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) Driver Escort Service – are coordinated from outside the village.

Cambridge contracts with McFarland Senior Outreach for the meals and the ride program that takes seniors to medical appointments is coordinated through the Deerfield Community Center.

In 2018, DCC coordinated about 400 rides in the Cambridge-Deerfield area, shouldering the staff costs to do that. Seniors give a donation to cover the mileage costs of volunteer drivers.

Last spring, for the first time, DCC reached out to the Cambridge Area Resource Team (CART) asking for volunteer drivers from the Cambridge area. CART was able to find volunteers to pick up riders in Cambridge. But the Cambridge-Deerfield ride program remains coordinated by DCC staff.

Then, last week, the Village of McFarland proposed a drastic increase in Cambridge’s share of its costs to offer the twice-weekly senior meals, up from $6,500 in 2019 to about $26,000 in 2020.

McFarland has been coordinating the meal program for Cambridge for more than a decade.

Cambridge is a small community with a limited budget, constrained by state levy limits and outstanding and looming obligations. Its budget struggles are real.

But continuing to rely on other communities to coordinate its senior programs leaves it in the future position of having no choice but to pay what those communities say it must pay for those services.

It’s important to note that Cambridge does independently offer some programs for seniors.

A meal program separate from what’s offered through McFarland, held 1-2 times a month at Oakland-Cambridge Presbyterian Church, is organized by the Cambridge Community Activities Program, with meals provided by Keystone Grill in Cambridge and some funding from the Cambridge Foundation. CAP also offers senior exercise.

Going forward, perhaps the best thing for seniors in Cambridge is for a new senior-focused committee to find a way to bring all meals, rides, social activities and other programs in-house, to plan for them locally and to pay for them with Cambridge dollars.

If it’s a made a priority, it’s our bet that Cambridge can find the needed dollars.

Perhaps CAP is the best umbrella organization. Perhaps a village committee is the best vehicle. Perhaps CART. Perhaps a mix of all of them. Perhaps area towns should be brought into the conversation.

The bottom line: control over costs and offerings would lie solely with Cambridge and the future visioning process could also focus squarely on what local seniors need.

Securing that local control might the best commitment Cambridge could make to its current and future older residents.

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