2018-04-12 / Front Page

Tax hike planned to cover seniors

Would offset program cuts
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

Property taxes to support Leelanau County Senior Services programs could increase by more than 14 percent following a recommendation made this week by the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners.

The Senior Services Department is supported in part by $757,561 raised through a 0.275-mill property tax approved by county voters four years ago. A 0.32-mill property tax the County Board recommended in 4-3 vote this week would raise $881,177 for the department.

The County Board held a “committee of the whole” meeting last month to receive detailed briefings from Senior Services Department head April Missias and her staff. Commissioners discussed the department’s budget and programming at length – but made no decisions.

Following additional discussion Tuesday at its executive meeting, motions to raise the property tax rate to 0.295-mill and 0.345-mill both failed. The 0.32-mill compromise carried, however.

District No. 3 commissioner and County Board Chairman Will Bunek, District No. 2 Commissioner Debra Rushton, and District No. 7 Commissioner Melinda Lautner – three of the seven-member board’s five Republicans – all voted “no.”

The board will consider acting on its recommendation at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday evening when draft ballot language is introduced. Voters will be asked to decide on the issue in the Aug. 7 Primary Election.

The Senior Services Department came up short of money last year when more senior citizens than expected applied for help from the department. Leelanau County is one of the most rapidly aging counties in Michigan and the U.S.

The budget shortfall was covered by a $60,000 infusion of general fund money into the department’s coffers, as well as the imposition of “means testing” on more recipients of various programs. And some programs were discontinued entirely.

Missias told the County Board that if the millage levy remains at 0.275, the department’s ability to provide in-home services and “unmet needs” for seniors will need to remain scaled-back. In addition, the department will need to institute wait lists for certain services.

A 0.32-mill levy will solve all those problems and allow some programs to grow. Missias said the additional revenue, if approved, will allow the department to add contractual nurse and social worker services, increase the number of in-home clients and “unmet needs” recipients, add a contractual volunteer coordinator, and increase availability of medical transportation services.

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