When Grand Traverse County voters overwhelmingly approved a six-year, 0.5-mill proposal for the Grand Traverse County Commission on Aging just two years ago, they thought they had resolved funding problems for the agency for years to come.
And by passing the issue by a greater than 80 percent margin they sent a clear message: We're willing to do what it takes to protect and support local seniors.
The 2010 vote renewed a millage voters had originally supported in 2004 and increased it slightly after it was rolled back to 0.4858 mills.
At the time, however, county officials warned that fluctuating property values could affect the amount of revenue the millage would generate.
Now, those warnings are coming home to roost and county seniors, just two years into the six-year millage, are faced with fee increases to help pay for the day-to-day services the COA provides. A county proposal earlier this year to increase fees by almost 250 percent for the poorest seniors — those with incomes less than $908 a month — has been scaled back, but it's still a big bite for those least able to pay.
The poorest seniors will now see the smallest fee increase for service — 85 cents per hour more than currently charged. Others will see fees for house cleaning, outside maintenance, foot care and other services increase from $1.55 an hour to $4 an hour, depending on their income and the service, a whopping 158 percent.
That's certainly not what voters expected in 2010. Did the county go for just a renewal to ensure passage? Did someone simply miscalculate how much the county would lose in tax revenue? Are seniors being overcharged? And is the county cutting other services by a similar amount?
It could be argued that if the county had asked for more than just a renewal in 2010, with the expectation of declining revenues, voters would still have said yes. Going back for another millage now would take months and would be politically difficult, at best.
Helping seniors stay in their own homes by providing basic services at a price they can afford is what the COA is all about. But unless a better solution to the funding problem is found soon, some people could be faced with unwelcome alternatives.