Details expected soon Allegan County's senior millage

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

Allegan County will likely put only a modest increase in the size of the longtime countywide millage that supports care for senior citizens.

That followed pushback from county commissioners concerned with a recommendation for a larger increase from the millage’s advisory committee, the Allegan County Commission on Aging.

The 11-member COA has since rescinded a nearly 50-percent increase recommendation after allowing its cash reserves to grow despite waiting lists for several services.

The 0.436-mill tax currently provides nearly $2 million annually to help seniors remain independent in their homes including in-home support, home-delivered meals, adult day care, transportation, and personal emergency response. The four-year tax expires this year.

At the county board’s morning planning session March 22, Commissioner Max Thiele was the most vocal critic of the Senior Services department’s unspent money, which totaled more than an estimated $600,000; an official total will be available only after the annual financial audit later in the year.

“You have to manage it from a historical perspective,” Thiele said. “If you’ve got $400,000 to spend, you just increase spending by (for example) 10 units service. We’re not talking about jumping up services; I’m not talking about adding (new) services.

“I’m talking about prudent and timely management of the fund.”

The previous policy directed the COA to keep the fund balance at approximately a third of where it sits now. That $200,000 represents 10 percent of annual expenses.

The fund is bigger than that in part due to an unplanned influx of $110,000 in state funding related to the replacement of personal property tax revenue. Another $222,000 was saved from the first year of the current four-year millage for use this year, a move designed to account for projected growth in the number of people receiving help from the millage.

Based on that, Commissioner Gale Dugan said he believed the services had been expanded prudently.

“This is a large operation, and it takes time to change the course of the ship,” Dugan said. “They’re on the right path of getting that fund balance going back down in the right direction.

“I believe the Commission (on Aging) is trying to do the best job within the means that it has, and that’s proven by the facts presented to us.”

Commissioner Tom Jessup said the fund balance had grown too much but the problem was less about policy than about the COA.

“I think there’s a need for a change of philosophy on the COA on how the funds are spent,” Jessup said.

That change appears to be underway already. The COA on March 20 rescinded its recommendation to increase the levy from 0.436 mill to 0.6392-mill.

At that same meeting, it passed a resolution backing the concept of spending down the fund balance to the 10-percent level, eliminating wait lists, and increasing the millage to a rate that allows for 5- to 7-percent growth.

 

Change

County commissioners, by the afternoon meeting, voted to hold them to that. According to county administration, commissioners voted 7-0 to modify the policy that governs the senior services department’s fund balance.

It stipulates the fund balance will be spent down to that 10-percent level. Funds in excess of that will be used to meet the needs of those on waiting lists for senior services and to expand services to more individuals, should the funds permit.

“The funds shall be allocated in such a manner to reasonably ensure the increased service level is financially sustainable through the end of the term of the current authorized millage,” the revised policy reads, noting that the COA is authorized to make adjustments mid-year and report those changes to the county board as part of its final review.

 

Details

The amount of the millage and the exact ballot language remains to be worked out. County commissioners agree the millage will be put before voters on the August ballot and for a set millage amount, as opposed to a rate that could be set annually up to a certain level.

Ballot language is due to the county clerk’s office by May 15 at 4 p.m. in order to be placed on the August ballot.

April 14, the county board will review its administrative review of the growth projections and determine the appropriate millage rate.

Sherry Owens directs the Senior Services department and said the rate will likely be less than the previously recommended increase.

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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