Increase in senior services millage renewal request
By Lisa Brody
After a contentious discussion between the two younger and the more mature board members over the value of spending to maintain the Bloomfield Township Senior Center at the board of trustees meeting on Monday, August 8, a proposal to renew and increase the senior services millage for the November 8 ballot was approved by a vote of 5-2.
The proposal before voters will request a renewal of senior services millage of .2273 mills (reduced by required millage rollbacks), which is due to expire in 2024, and to increase the millage by a new .1027 mills, for a total millage rate of .33 mills, authorizing a levy of 33 cents per $1,000 of taxable value. Director of senior services Christine Tvaroha said approval will permit the township to finance continued staffing, equipping and operating of the senior center and providing of senior services, which include adult day care service, transportation service, nutrition service, management service and marketing and outreach services, including consultation projects, a fitness and aquatic center and senior programming.
The millage would be for 10 years. It is estimated that this proposal would result in the authorization to collect $1,673,000 in the first year if approved..
In a presentation, Tvaroha said that 50 percent of the township's residents are 50 years of age or older; 44 percent of households have someone aged 65 or more. The center offers services and programming for those 50 years and older. “Demand for services will continue to grow as people prefer to age in place,” she said. “Our mission is to enrich lives with learning opportunities, to provide services that support well being and independence, and to build community.”
The first time a senior services millage was on the ballot, in 2004, it received 53 percent approval from residents; a 2014 renewal request was approved by 80 percent of voters.
Prior to the COVID pandemic, the 24,000 square foot center had 70,000 visits annually, with active customers in their 50s through their 90s, she said. Tvaroha said the center has finally been able to return to full staffing.
Supportive services provide rides, hours of dementia respite care, hot meals delivered, and safety checks. She said enrichment equals a social connection. “This fall we will have 45 offerings monthly,” she said.
The fitness center “is an investment in healthy aging,” Tvaroha said. “It's proven to prevent disease, lower the risk of falls, improvement mental health and well being.”
The pandemic caused financial difficulties, as the center was closed for a lengthy period of time, only reopening in recent months. The center, which is about 10 years old, is in need of maintenance, such as parking lot improvements.
“We are very fortunate to have a high-quality center but the related expenses were not known when the millage was first developed. Facilities costs are 34 percent of expenses and are equal to two-thirds of millage revenue,” Tvaroha said. “There is a common misconception that the millage covers all programs and services. It is important to recall that the millage equates to one half of a penny of each dollar paid by taxpayers and covers only 52 percent of operations.”
She said the remainder of earned income comes from grants, donations, scholarships, user fees and client co-pays. Residents of other communities who are interested in programming or other services pay a higher fee than residents.
The breakdown of funding includes 52 percent, $1,010,000, from the millage; $227,000 from grants and donations, for 12 percent; $250,000 from earned income, 13 percent; the remainder unfunded, 23 percent, $449,108.
“The current operations are not sustainable. According to SEMCOG, a 30 percent growth in 65-plus households is expected in Bloomfield Township by 2045,” Tvaroha said. “With a modest increase, it can help offset cost increases and services.”
“If the millage is not increased, what will happen? Our reserves will be depleted by 2028. What then? Do we supplement from the general fund?” asked trustee Michael Schostak. “Now is not the time to request an increase. We are in a recession, yet next year everyone's property taxes will go up five percent. I think we have to prioritize our spending.”
“Just as any building, whether the parking lot or an office building, it needs maintenance,” said trustee Neal Barnett. “It's a real asset in the community, and many, many people use it. It took a hit during the pandemic. Many people who live here want to stay here. It's a service that says we value our seniors.”
“It's the smallest millage we have, and we get a lot for that,” noted clerk Martin Brook. “If we let it go, it will severely affect the seniors in the community. It's defining who we are as a community and who we want to be. I think it's a good investment. I think the community gets good services from this investment.”
“I don't think we can turn our back on it,” said trustee Val Murray. “The senior center was really hit by the pandemic.”
“Whether we're in a recession or not, if we're in a challenging time, it's even more important to have a place for people to come together,” said treasurer Brian Kepes, noting that senior services also provides transportation services. “It may be the only transportation a senior has.”
“This is a difficult decision for me. We just know what is to come,” said trustee Stephanie Fakih.
Supervisor Dani Walsh noted that it is because of cost savings that she always supports schools and the senior center, pointing out she has never had a child use the school, and only recently is eligible for the senior center, although her mother has benefited greatly from it.
Schostak reiterated that he wishes they could take it out of the budget instead of asking taxpayers to fund it.
Trustees voted to approve placing the proposal on the November ballot, voting 5-2, with Schostak and Fakih voting against.