Providing hot noontime meals in senior citizen centers and to homebound individuals are the top priorities of Salt Lake County Aging Services, according to a list discussed Monday at a public hearing that included members of the Salt Lake Council for Aging.

Programs for the elderly are inadequately funded and many of them have waiting lists, according to Darrell Butler, program planner. As many as 90 frail, elderly people are waiting to get into the Alternatives program, for example. That program provides a variety of services to people who would otherwise need to go into a nursing home."We're not advertising any of our programs," Butler said. "With these waiting lists, we don't want to foster false hope; we can't do anything right away."

"Alternatives tends to be our highest priority for additional funding because there's such tremendous need and we have so much pressure for it," said Shauna O'Neil, director of Salt Lake County Aging Services. She said her office is grappling with questions such as whether other programs should be reduced to pay for Alternatives.

"When you take a look at the continuum of services, I don't think you can shortchange one to make room for the other," Rep. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, said.

Several people offered suggestions for programs, including providing an emergency number for elderly people who may be in some kind of crisis and getting Scouts to volunteer to shovel walks and mow lawns for elderly people who can no longer take care of their own yards.

The six lowest-priority programs are also the ones that almost pay for themselves, O'Neil said, so little would be gained by eliminating the bottom of the list to pay for the top. The lowest priorities are lawn-cutting and snow shoveling assistance for frail senior citizens, craft classes and education programs in senior centers, transportation for group excursions and direct assistance with legal problems.

Besides the noontime meals, high priorities on the 36-item list of services are a countywide network of senior centers, transportation to medical appointments and other essential services for those who have no other way to get around, telephone reassurance calls to check on the well-being of isolated and frail senior citizens, help with such things as eviction notices and utility shut-offs and stipended opportunities for low-income senior citizens to help special-needs children. The Alternatives program is ranked No. 12 on the list, showing how serious things are, O'Neil said.

Comments on the plan will be collected and discussed with an advisory council, then the plan will be sent to the State Division of Aging for approval.