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Senior services agreement under review

By Kevin Elliott

An agreement among Birmingham, Bingham Farms, Beverly Hills and Franklin Village to commit to providing senior services through Next was nearly reached by the Birmingham City Commission at their meeting on Monday, August 23, and remains under review.

If approved, the agreement would be a formal commitment to maintain the status quo minimum of funds spent on senior services in each of the four communities, which have traditionally retained Next for senior services. However, some commissioners are hopeful the agreement is the first step in the communities taking a more active role in being a service provider.

Next is a 501(c), private non-profit organization that has provided senior services for four decades, including educational programming, art, fitness and other services. Next is funded through grants, donations, fundraising and participation of the four communities in the agreement. The facility is located at the former Midvale School, 2121 Midvale, Birmingham.

Some in the Birmingham community have speculated that the school may be sold in the future by the Birmingham Public Schools district, or that Next may be forced to find a new location. With that in mind, the Birmingham City Commission had established an ad hoc joint senior services committee to work on a potential agreement. While a potential agreement had been discussed for several years, there hasn’t been consensus among the communities.

Birmingham City Manager Tom Markus said a more complex agreement was discussed for years, but failed to gain support from the leaders in the other municipalities. Instead, the interlocal agreement before commissioners at the meeting on Monday, August 23, stated that each community would continue to provide funds to Next in proportion to the previous year.

Birmingham provides about $122,944 to Next each year, or about 67 percent of the contribution from the four communities.

“There were obligations in the other agreement, creating the backdrop that if the school board decided to change up the use of that building, we would have an organization in place,” Markus said. “I think the value of this is that it recognizes our current situation and formalizes that … this agreement formalizes the relationship and it can be built upon if circumstances change, whatever those might be. That other agreement had no legs. We went through a couple attorneys trying to sell that. There’s not much chance that other agreement will be approved. It may get there once we know the potential circumstances and what the potential solutions to those might be, but this is all conjecture. Nobody is going to commit to conjecture at this point.”

Mayor pro tem Therese Longe said she expected a more robust agreement and presentation, with greater input from the ad hoc joint senior services committee.

“The whole point of the joint senior services committee was to consider what you’re calling conjecture and move us to a situation where if that worst case occurred, we were ready,” Longe said. “By sitting here and saying we are going to sign this and we aren’t going to do anything until something occurs – the snake is eating its tail. We aren’t going to go anywhere if we sign this and don’t consider the other recommendations of the committee, which was to set up the active adult commission and come up with some sort of interlocal agreement that could work toward a (tax increment financing) TIF.

“If the school district offers to sell that building next year, we are in no position to do anything,” she continued. “The point of the (committee) was to consider those issues and get us to the position where we would be prepared. We would be looking to the future and have an understanding with the other communities. That is what we wanted to do, beyond confirming the annual commitment.”

Birmingham city attorney Mary Kucharek said the proposed agreement is the first step toward that goal, with the following steps to be directed by the commission.

“It’s not staff or my job to make decisions as to what the city does,” she said. “I was asked to find an agreement with the four communities, and after that we are to get direction from you on where to go next and what it is you would like to achieve.”

Commissioner Clinton Baller likened the annual provision to Next and being a municipal service provider as “apples and oranges.”

“We are giving $100,000 a year to Next, and you’re talking oranges many, many times that cost,” Baller said. “You can’t expect staff or an ad hoc committee to make something like that happen. It’s going to take a well-educated community knowing the costs and whether they want to push something like that through.”

Baller said elected officials who want more substantial results should show stronger political will and grow community support for a different agreement.

Markus agreed. “We can talk about agreements all day long, but if you don’t have other persons that are interested in developing that agreement, you’re not going anywhere,” Markus said. “The reality is, the consequence of what the school board does with that building is one factor that may change the future of this agreement. We don’t know that. Thinking everyone is going to be like-minded like certain people who have concocted this agreement and that the other communities are just going to accede to that – I don’t see where you’re going.”

Commissioner Brad Host, who was a member of the ad hoc joint senior services committee, said he was under the impression that the former agreement had support from all of the communities.

“I want to apologize. At that time last July, I thought we had an agreement with the other three entities,” Host said. “The notion being maybe they weren’t the right people in the room, but I thought they were the right people in the room. Subsequent to that, we kind of dropped the ball.”

Still, Host said the new agreement should be approved, and the city should take more proactive steps to address the growing senior population.

Commissioner Stuart Sherman suggested reforming the committee with new members. “It’s apparent that the Joint Senior Services Committee intended well, but to draft an agreement to which there is no political will is disheartening,” he said. “Should the committee be disbanded and reconstituted with different people? It seems it has no purpose, and we need to find that purpose.”

Senior services committee member Gordon Rinschler said disbanding the committee wasn’t necessary as it was already dissolved when the commission failed to renew it.

The discussion ended without any action, with minor changes to the wording of the agreement made. It will be sent to the other communities for review.

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