from the Eagle Tribune…

ATKINSON — The town’s three elderly affairs cruisers are getting new decals. Their four drivers are getting new uniforms. But the program isn’t getting a new home or director — at least for now.

The elderly affairs program is still going to provide senior citizens with hundreds of rides to doctors appointments, assistance with paying utility bills, birthday cards and other services. But it will soon do so as a town department, not a division of the Police Department.

The shift was six months in the making. In April, the state Attorney General’s Charitable Trust Unit fielded complaints from residents about the program’s donation accounts and police Chief Philip Consentino’s control as its volunteer director.

Charitable Trust Unit Director Terry Knowles spent three months “inquiring” about the senior citizen service program and Consentino’s practices. Her recommendations were to separate police and elderly affairs, and she’s worked with selectmen over the last month to do that legally.

Selectman Bill Friel has put together a separation plan packet, which Knowles approved. It was on the selectmen’s agenda Monday night to discuss and vote on the plan, but Chairman Paul Sullivan said he hadn’t gone through the packet yet and asked to wait a week.

Some details of the plan were discussed, however, as Consentino read his proposed 2009 Elderly Affairs Department budget. Consentino arrived at the meeting in his police uniform, which he rarely wears. In case selectmen pushed for him to keep his duties separate, he said yesterday, he had also brought an elderly affairs jacket that he could have put on to hide his uniform.

The separation will cost $5,250. That includes money to take the “Atkinson Police Community Service” writing off the cruisers and replace it with “Town of Atkinson Elderly Affairs Department.” There’s also money to buy the part-time elderly transport drivers new uniforms since they currently wear police uniforms.

The Elderly Affairs Department likely will get a bigger budget in 2009 — $37,668, up from $24,149. That will include the one-time cost of separating its name from the Police Department. On Knowles’ recommendation, the budget includes line items for car maintenance, postage and payroll.

Prescriptions, fuel assistance and other items Consentino usually purchases with donations will still be funded the same way. The money can come either from previously donated money, now controlled by the Trustees of the Trust Fund, or from new donations to the charitable trust Consentino set up — the Atkinson Police Charitable Trust.

Selectmen voted Monday to transfer the balance of the previous police donation account — $11,412 — to the Trustees of the Trust Fund. Consentino will have to go to the trustees with specific expenditure requests to tap into that money.

There are written instructions for receiving and spending donations in the plan selectmen will likely adopt.

Consentino said he could donate money from his charitable trust to the town to cover some of the elderly affairs budget.

“Some people don’t understand we take in $10,000 to $12,000 a year in revenue to offset what it takes to take care of seniors’ needs,” he said.

But Consentino said he is thrilled that much of the program, which he started, will remain the same. The senior citizen transports will still be coordinated inside the police station and he is still in charge.

For now, Consentino will have to document his time spent as the paid police chief and his time as volunteer elderly affairs director. In the future, Selectman Fred Childs said, the idea will be to have the departments run by two different people.