EMMET COUNTY — In August, voters once again approved a county millage to provide funding for senior services. The millage was renewed at the same rate of .50 mills and will be levied over four years. This year, the allocation of funds may look a little different and could change some of the services available.
The funding from this millage has primarily gone to friendship centers in past years. According to Denneen Smith, executive director of the Friendship Centers of Emmet County, the organization has received 85 to 90 percent of the funding for the past 30 years. The millage makes up about 60 percent of its operating budget.
The Friendship Centers of Emmet County received so much of the funding because the non-profit also operates as the county’s Council on Aging. With the organization taking on this role, the county does not need to have a government funded committee on aging.
The millage language is written intentionally vague so that any organization looking to offer senior services can receive funding. This was rarely advertised though, as the friendship centers were the primary recipients.
This year, commissioners encouraged others to apply for funding because there was leftover money that had carried over from last year. While all applicants will receive 90 percent of their requested funding if the allocations are approved at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Oct. 10, the Friendship Centers of Emmet County could lose $165,000 of its operating budget.
In a letter dated Sept. 16, Smith explained the funding cut and its potential effects. The centers already operates on a tight budget and without the $165,000, the friendship centers will likely eliminate several exercise classes and programs that offer comfort to seniors like the home chore funds and produce boxes. Bus routes will be limited and Meals on Wheels routes reconfigured to reduce fuel costs. Raw food will be reduced and supplemented with frozen and canned food. Supply budget will decrease by 50 percent. Employee wages will be frozen, meaning they will not receive wage increases. Two full-time employees will go to 30 hours per week and lose their health coverage, one part-time employee’s hours will be reduced by 50 percent and two home aides will be eliminated.
“We are not just a Senior Center. We’re responsible to the state of Michigan to provide in-home services like baths, grooming, respite care, light duty housekeeping. We do Meals on Wheels, we’re the only one in the county that does that,” Smith said. “We’re also responsible for a special grant from (Michigan Department of Transportation) for transportation. So we get the bulk of the money because we’re really responsible for making sure that senior services happen in the county.”
Emmet County Commissioner Neil Ahrens is the chair of the Aging Advisory Committee, he commented on behalf of himself and does not speak for the committee or the board. He said the committee was informed of the extra money and wanted to get the word out so they could give away all of the money.
“Our finance director told us there was about $200,000 leftover from last year. We found that out and we thought, ‘we need to get the word out and make sure we give away all the money,’” Ahrens said. “And so that’s where the whole idea of other people applying (came from) and besides, anybody can apply if they’re following the guidelines. This money is just for senior services, it’s a very broad based title of what it’s for. It’s not just for friendship centers.”
Northwest Habitat for Humanity was informed of the extra money in the millage. The organization saw an opportunity to expand its home repair program and requested $270,000, enough to fund the program for one year. The committee recommended they receive 90 percent of their request.
“We applied for the funding to expand our repair program. It’s a lesser known program of habitat, but we offer an affordable home repair option to homeowners. We’ve been running that for years and seniors account for about 70 percent of the repairs that we do for that program,” Gina Stegehuis, Marketing Manager for Northwest Michigan Habitat for Humanity said.
“Typically, they are homeowners, which is a requirement for the program and a lot of times they’re living on a fixed income or a smaller income so they really have trouble getting repairs done. But we have seen a growing need in the community of seniors that fall below our income qualifications, who are not getting approved for our repair program, but are still in need of these very critical repairs. So we applied for the millage funding to create a new…