SANDOWN – The selectmen are split about whether to accept a donation of a minivan for the Sandown Senior Affairs Transportation Program, even though members of the volunteer group say it’s a rare opportunity that will help them do their jobs better.
Senior Affairs members Kathleen Richardson and Joan Park met with the selectmen at their Monday night meeting to outline the donation of a 2002 Dodge Caravan. The group said it would handle all repair work and gas for the vehicle, noting that they had also found a person to donate labor for anything that needs to be fixed on the van in the future.
The only thing the town needs to help out with to get the van on the road is the insurance. The van would come under the town’s existing policy at a cost of about $448 this year. Richardson explained that the program has been doing good work since it put wheels to the road in April. The purpose of the committee and program is to provide rides primarily for homebound seniors to get them to important appointments. The program focuses on transportation for medical issues, but will also help out with some around the town needs like grocery shopping.
Richardson said the group has come a long way since it began organizing a couple years ago. It has policy infrastructure in place and volunteer drivers, and has been successful in getting the community’s support through fundraising efforts. The program has 21 registered residents and has made 54 trips. In April six trips were provided and in May that number jumped to 24. In June there were 18 trips and so far this month there have been six. That’s 662.3 miles driven at an average trip length of 12.2 miles.
The group has 10 volunteer drivers. Though the group has raised money largely for gas cards for the drivers, many have declined them, preferring to use their own money for that too.
This is a program that is much needed in town, said Richardson, and is doing good work.
The opposition from the board came primarily from the potential for the van to cost residents in the future.
Selectman Brenda Copp was the most adamant that the van should not be accepted, while the others split in their decision between their support of the program and the financial unknowns the van could present. Copp has spoken against the group since its early days, saying that there are other organizations that provide the same service, such as Community Caregivers of Greater Derry, which don’t cost the town.
“We were assured that this wouldn’t cost the town any money,” said Copp numerous times through the discussion. Copp questioned many aspects of the van, including why volunteer drivers would want to drive all the way to a central location to pick up the van instead of using their own vehicles. Copp also questioned whether the town had ever accepted a donation that would only be used for a single group, and argued that she couldn’t see why not accepting the van would hurt the program in any way.
Copp also spoke about her problems with creating a new budget for the program, but town administrator Lynne Blaisdell said no new budget would need to be created, as the insurance cost for the vehicle would be placed into the town’s existing insurance line.
Richardson said the van would be a boon to those in wheelchairs, or who need more space. Right now the group cannot transport residents using wheelchairs. She pointed out that other departments in town have dedicated vehicles.
Richardson was clearly upset by what she said was a “stonewall” from Copp. A lot of time and effort have gone into the program to make it a success and to aid the people of Sandown, she said, and Richardson said some of the arguments against the vehicle were almost offensive.
“I find it hard to believe that with all of these volunteers standing behind us that we’re, I feel we’re being stonewalled,” said Richardson.
Other selectmen were less clearcut. Selectman Jim Devine said he was in favor of the van, but wanted proof the vehicle was in good condition. Selectman Hans Nicolaisen said it was a great idea, but questioned what would happen if the person who is donating labor to fix the car should decide against that in the future.
Chair Tom Tombarello said he’s behind the program 100 percent, but part of him thinks accepting the van was putting the cart before the horse. Tombarello questioned whether it was too early in the program’s existence to obtain its own vehicle. “When will this opportunity come again?” asked Richardson.
Nicolaisen ultimately made a motion to accept the van under the condition that it not cost the town any money except for insurance. “I think it’s a no brainer,” said Nicolaisen.
Copp questioned whether the board could pass such a motion, which would bind future boards that they not spend money on the vehicle.
After more discussion unrelated to Copp’s point, the motion was rescinded and the board asked the group to return at the next meeting in two weeks with certification that the van is in good condition. In that time the selectmen will research how the insurance would work on the vehicle.