Tick tock: Census data leads Herbst to push for new senior center
First Selectman Tim Herbst knows how important location is in regard to public perception of the new senior-community center.
Without a centralized location that satisfies the majority of residents, the proposed building will remain just that: a concept.
However, there’s a more pressing matter at hand, the town’s top official stressed to The Times last week.
And it’s time — an entity Trumbull is running short on as its senior population continues to balloon.
According to census data compiled for the town in November 2014, Trumbull’s senior population — 55 and older — is estimated to make up 35.4% of the town’s population by 2019. And of that part of the population, 26.8% will be above the age of 65.
“We’re talking about 9,000-plus seniors if the numbers hold up — that’s 1,500 more people than the number of children we have in our school system,” the first selectman said.
“We have a $105-million education budget, yet there are people in town who are adamant that we shouldn’t invest a penny in a new senior center,” he said. “These are people who say the current one is just fine; well, it’s not fine — it’s not handicap-friendly and it has the lowest membership of any type facility in the region.”
That last point is worth remembering, according to Herbst.
“Our seniors are leaving to go to Shelton, Easton and Fairfield, and wherever else they can go,” he said. “That’s unconscionable when you really think about it — they should enjoy the town just as much as the rest of us.”
According to Senior Center Director Jean Fereira, the current center has 300 regular users, and some of those are from outside of Trumbull.
What’s perhaps most troubling is the exodus of Trumbull seniors leaving town for other centers.
A total of 405 Trumbull residents are leaving town to use other town’s senior centers — 156 in Easton; 150 in Shelton; 88 in Monroe; and 11 in Stratford.
“What this data reflects is that there are currently more Trumbull seniors using outside senior centers in other communities than using our Senior Center in Trumbull,” Herbst said.
“This doesn’t occur with our schools, our golf course and our parks and recreational programming and senior services and programming should be no exception,” he added. “If this doesn’t underscore the need for a new center that focuses on improved and enhanced programming, I do not know what else does.”
No more arguing
As the town faces an expected increase of 1,000-plus senior residents from the beginning of the decade to the end of it in 2019, the first selectman believes that the argument shouldn’t be about pitting school parents versus seniors; rather, it should be about working together to find a solution to a looming problem.
“If I didn’t think this was absolutely necessary, then I wouldn’t be advocating for it,” Herbst told The Times last week.
That’s why he plans to spend “an extensive amount of time” in his State of the Town address on Thursday, March 31, focusing on the issue.
“The census data backs up what I’ve been told by the Southwestern Connecticut Agency on Aging, and that’s that our senior population is significantly higher than in other Fairfield County communities,” he said. “We have an active, growing senior population, and we can’t elect to ignore it anymore.”