Senior services levy gets mixed reactions

Andrew Gaug

A general meeting of the Portage Democratic Coalition was greeted with mixed reaction last night when it turned to a panel discussion concerning the Senior Services Levy.

The Senior Services Levy, known as Issue 7, is a five-year, 2 mill, $6.7 million annual property tax levy on Portage County that if approved in the May 8 county-wide election will go toward helping senior citizens’ personal care, meals and activities.

The panel, which consisted of senior services worker Sally Kelly, former state Sen. Leigh Herington and Dave Vanderneut, head of Concerned Seniors of Portage County, addressed the concerns of citizens and how the levy would affect them.

Vanderneut said although he supports a senior center to be built with help from the taxes, polling of people who support the levy was off base.

“We have questions, we have concerns, but not many answers,” he said.

A survey that was done for the levy showed many respondents favoring several components of it, Vanderneut said, but the survey didn’t discriminate between those who are living comfortably and others who are struggling, so potentially anyone older than the age of 60 was a client.

“It is a very, very raw number and very maximized,” he said.

Vanderneut noted the percentage of where the taxes would go, included:

  • 82 percent going to community-based long term care
  • 8 percent to a county senior center
  • 7 percent to a community health center
  • 3 percent to an adult protective service center

He said he could not support the levy, describing it as “$6.7 million to be given to unknown people for unknown things.”

“I’m not comfortable with that,” he said.

Herington defended the levy saying that after seeing how many senior citizens were in nursing homes, he wanted to see a change.

“We have too much money going into nursing homes and not enough money keeping them in their regular homes,” he said.

Kelly, a senior services worker for 12 years, joined Herington in saying she’s seen senior citizens who need help and would like to see something that supports them.

“These are not people on limited income, these are people from all walks of life,” she said.

Kelly said care for senior citizens would go to those who make a moderate income but don’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare.

Herington estimated there were more than 1,200 in need of help with everyday activities but don’t qualify for either program.

And senior citizens may eventually find the levy to be important as it’s not unusual for people to live to 100 years old anymore, Kelly said.

“Whether you vote for it or not, I know there are people that are going to need it,” she said.

Contact public affairs reporter Andrew Gaug at [email protected].