WSW: Debating a Kalamazoo County "Senior Millage"

Jul 12, 2018

Marty Robertson unpacks food from the Chagrin Falls Meals on Wheels program for recipient Bernadette Winko, 90, in her Bentleyville, Ohio home on Wednesday, March 14, 2012. Like Ohio's, Michigan's senior population is increasing.
Credit Amy Sancetta / AP Photo

Kalamazoo County does not collect a tax to pay for services for older adults, but that could change August  7. Voters will consider a 0.35-mill levy to raise money for a variety of programs, potentially including everything from help with homemaking to outreach to isolated older adults.

The "senior millage," if it passes, would cost a homeowner whose house's taxable value is $100,000 about $35 a year. West Southwest spoke with former Kalamazoo County Area Agency on Aging director Judy Sivak about why she supports the millage, and Kalamazoo County Commissioner and chair of the Kalamazoo GOP Scott McGraw about why he opposes it.

Sivak says the millage would help to draw down, though not eliminate, the waiting lists for services that she says many seniors and their caregivers depend on.

"Services such as helping with a bath, grocery shopping, house cleaning, setting up medications, building a ramp, managing your money, installing a grab bar, and providing a much-needed home delivered meal," she told West Southwest.

Sivak says a 2011 county assessment of seniors' needs showed that with no action, the waiting lists for senior services will go to up to about 900 people within the next half-year. She says more than 300 people have been added in the last six months.

"That's why we need services to help keep people staying in their own homes, where they want to be," she said.

Opposing the millage

Kalamazoo County Commissioner Scott McGraw voted against putting the "senior millage" request on the ballot. He says the county could spend more money on care for seniors from its general fund, but says he does not support an additional levy to help pay for those services.

"I believe our tax millage rate is adequate to perform the services that we are responsible for, and we have done so well with the current millage," McGraw said, noting that the county plans to build a courthouse and a new animal services building without increasing the tax rate.

"If we do additional millages and that, I think we have many seniors who are compromised with their finances, and I don't want to see our local seniors making choices between food and medicine and rent, or a mortgage payment and paying their taxes," he added.