2018-04-19 / Local News

County to seek more senior funding

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

Leelanau County voters will decide on August 7 whether property taxes should be raised to support and expand programs offered by the county’s Senior Services Department.

The department is currently supported in part by $757,561 raised through a 0.275-mill property tax approved by county voters four years ago.

The County Board this week decided in a 4-3 vote to ask county voters to authorize a 0.32-mill property tax for two years to raise an estimated $881,177 for the department in 2019.

The board’s decision on the ballot proposal this week mirrored a discussion and recommendation the board made last week acting as its executive committee. The 0.32-mill level was a compromise in which none of the options included lowering the millage rate or even keeping it at the same 0.275-mill level.

Proposals on the table included a 0.295-mill levy and a 0.345-mill levy, both of which failed in separate votes of the County Board last week.

A 0.295-mill levy would have essentially allowed the department to maintain the level of service it has been providing this year. Last year, the department required a $60,000 infusion of general fund money to remain solvent even as “means-testing” was imposed on the recipients of certain service, and other services were cut entirely.

The shortfall resulted from an unexpected increase in the number of senior citizens requesting services last year. Leelanau County is one of the most rapidly-aging counties in Michigan and the U.S.

The 0.32-mill levy will allow the department to resume many of the services it had previously provided, eliminate waiting lists for some services, and hire contractors to provide nursing, social work and volunteer coordination services.

A motion by District No. 4 Commissioner Ty Wessell to authorize ballot language calling for the 0.32-mill levy was supported by his one fellow Democrat on the board, District No. 5 Commissioner Patricia Soutas-Little.

Following discussion, District No. 7 Commissioner Melinda Lautner proposed amending the motion to set the millage at 0.295. Her amendment was supported by District No. 2 Commissioner Deb Rushton.

A vote on the amended motion failed 4-3 with only Lautner, Rushton and District No. 3 Commissioner Will Bunek, the County Board Chair, voting “yes.”

A vote on the motion to place the proposed 0.32-mill levy on the Aug. 7 ballot carried 5-2, with Lautner and Rushton voting “no.”

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