Seniors’ group rejects town demand for contract

CHATHAM–The Chatham/Ghent Area Seniors and the Town of Chatham have come to an impasse. The Town Board wants the board of seniors’ group to sign an agreement before the town will release the $2,000 budgeted for the group. The funds offset the costs of the group’s monthly bus trips.

“They’ve always given it to us before,” the group’s president, Bootie Fenoff, said last week. This is her first year as president of the seniors’ group board, but the group has been around for at least 25 years, she said. Ms. Fenoff and other members of the group pointed out that the Town of Ghent gave them the money that the Ghent Town Board budgeted for the group without requiring a contract or insurance.

Chatham Town Supervisor Maria Lull wrote in an email response to the Columbia Paper’s questions about the issue, “The purpose of the agreement drafted by the town attorney is to protect the town and its taxpayers from liability which might result from an accident when the seniors are on a field trip. The signing of an agreement is a New York State legal requirement that the town has to comply with, as we have done with all other organizations. The town is very happy to support these valuable senior field trips and we look forward to signing an agreement to dispense the $2,000 to help underwrite them.”

Ms. Fenoff said she will not sign an agreement that makes her and her board members personally liable if something goes wrong on their bus trips. “You shouldn’t have to lose your life savings,” she said August 2 after the monthly meeting of the group at St. James Church in the Village of Chatham.

She said there are 144 members of the group, which plans monthly trips around the area for seniors. Without the money from the town, which was budgeted for the group in January, the cost to members for the trips will have to go up. Ms. Fenoff and the group’s treasurer, Sue Brown, said that the price for an upcoming trip was initially going to be $69, but since the funds from Chatham have not come in it’s going to cost $99.

“We try to keep [the trips] open to everyone,” Ms. Brown said after the August 2 meeting. Ms. Brown said that the bus company has insurance as do the trip destinations.

Earlier this year, the Chatham Town Board asked the group show a proof of insurance before they would give them the funds, so Ms. Fenoff said they took out a policy with MetzWood Harder.

Ms. Brown said their issue is not with the insurance but with the agreement. She also said that representatives of the Chatham group had contacted other senior groups in the area and learned that their counterparts were not required to sign contracts.

Ms. Fenoff said she told her members at the meeting that she was not signing the agreement with the town and told them she would resign from being president. “Everybody’s behind me,” she said. “We’ll fight it to the end.”

To contact Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale @columbiapaper.com

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