Pasco County could soon take over the site where Community Aging and Retirement Services, known as CARES, had planned to relocate its senior day care program in Dade City.
Commissioner Ron Oakley made a motion during this week’s commission meeting for county staff to bring back whatever is needed to approve so that Pasco County would become the owner and step in to complete the construction on the site. The commission agreed.
Oakley, who had served for a time on the CARES board, also asked for commissioners to seek $1.3 million through state lawmakers to complete the construction.
“I think that it’s important that we take care of our seniors,” Oakley told the Tampa Bay Times. He said he wasn’t sure what the property would be used for but it would be for senior services.
Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature agreed to spend more than $600,000 to finish the center, which is under construction on a parcel of land donated by Florida Agriculture Secretary and Pasco resident Wilton Simpson. But Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed funds for the project.
That veto came just as Pasco County was preparing to step in to take over the CARES primary government contract to assist seniors. The county was awarded that $4.3 million contract in August to provide case management for low-income seniors and arrange services they need, including meal delivery, housecleaning, transportation to medical appointments, adult day care and other resources.
CARES had run that program for 49 years but recently had run into financial trouble, including overspending on its previous contract by $1.2 million. The nonprofit balked at new financial controls from the Area Agency on Aging, which oversees the program, and withdrew its bid to renew its contract for six more years.
CARES also faced other issues.
Conflict-of-interest concerns were raised after it sold its current Dade City senior center building to the chairperson of its board of directors. Other fiscal questions arose when management arranged to make payroll by asking help from the members of its board when cash flow became a problem.
State Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, who sponsored the previous legislative appropriation, said he believed the allocation should follow the new building, not the charity, since the facility would serve older residents no matter who operates it. But that didn’t turn out to be the case.
Now a new allocation will be sought, Oakley said.
CARES reached out to the county to ask that it take over the building and see construction to its completion, said Brian Hoben, Pasco County director of community services. He said the CARES board has agreed to turn over the property to the county.
After that request, “Pasco County Senior Services has viewed this building and we plan to utilize it as a senior center, eventually vacating our current senior center in Dade City to move to this location once completed,” Hoben said. “The county is in the beginning phases and is currently working with CARES” and other agencies to accomplish the handover.
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Jemith Rosa, executive director of CARES, said that she was not sure when the change to the new site would happen and that she was working with county staff on the transition.
Pasco took over the Community Care for the Elderly contract from CARES in September. Hoben said that the county serves 427 seniors and that it continues to take new cases as they come in.
“We have also been receiving great responses and feedback from our seniors and staff regarding the current services being provided,” Hoben said.