Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 13, 2010

Senior center plan on ballot

BY LINDSAY VANHULLE
lvanhulle@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — Lucille H. Miller considers the Traverse City Senior Center an equal opportunity place.

She doesn't call it that simply because it's open to seniors from across Grand Traverse County. Rather, it's that everyone — "if you're lucky," she said — will someday be old.

Miller, of Garfield Township, plans to support a new six-year, 0.1-mill proposal Nov. 2 that would merge the city senior center with the Grand Traverse County Commission on Aging.

Organizers estimate the millage would generate about $439,000 in its first year. It solely would cover operations.

The tax is intended to spread senior center funding throughout the county, instead of relying on city government to cover a service used mostly by residents of surrounding townships.

Miller, who has visited the center off and on for about eight years, wants the millage approved.

"They forget that they, too, are going to be seniors someday," said Miller of potential opponents. "We don't want to lose any of our programs."

The merger idea surfaced in a minority opinion written by members of the city-initiated Citizens Operational and Financial Analysis Committee, or COFAC. The group began meeting in 2007 to study city spending.

City government covered 55 percent of the senior center's funding, even though city residents were only 23 percent of its users, the report states.

Additionally, three-quarters of the center's membership came from Grand Traverse County townships, which funded just 22 percent of operations. Not all townships contribute money.

The COFAC minority group recommended merging with the county, saying it "would put the Senior Center (sic) on a solid fiscal footing, have all Grand Traverse County taxpayers contribute to it fairly, and make it less dependent on the random charity of others."

City budgets had contributed $100,000 to the senior center for several years, but this year the share was reduced to $85,000.

"We do consider it a challenge, and we had long talks about that," said Georgia Durga, Commission on Aging director, of taking a new proposal to voters. "But the bottom line is, we felt like the other funding sources were going to be going away."

Residents of Traverse City and contributing townships — Acme, Blair, East Bay, Garfield, Long Lake and Peninsula, as well as Elmwood Township in Leelanau County — pay $15 yearly memberships. All others pay $35.

Those fees would disappear under the millage.

"We're not taking anything for granted," said Lori Wells, the senior center's director. "If anything stands a shot, we stand a shot."

The proposal also would create a countywide senior center network, with the goal of expanding programs for older adults in outlying municipalities.

Last month, 71 seniors attended a meeting in Interlochen, and 16 people signed up to volunteer to start classes or programs, Wells said.

"There would be more options closer to home," she said.

The Traverse City location could include the rural centers' events in its newsletter, as well as provide administrative support to smaller sites run mostly by volunteers, Durga said.

"What we don't want is for them to think that the county is taking them over," she said. "We want them to be individual and unique."

Kenneth Kleyn, of Whitewater Township, said he would pay a $35 membership fee next year to support the senior center. He started going there in August to play pickleball, and now visits at least twice a week.

Kleyn isn't opposed to the millage.

"I think the people who play here will be likely to support it," he said. "I believe in local taxes."

Coming Thursday: Two vie for Leelanau County Probate Judge seat.