PETOSKEY – Staff, residents and key advocates at Emmet County Friendship Centers made their voices heard on Monday, October 10, as the Emmet County Board of Commissioners decided how best to distribute county senior mileage funds.
The four-year 0.50 mile was last renewed by voters in August, and over the past 30 years, 85-90 percent of funding has gone to Emmet County Friendship Centers. Mileage funds make up approximately 60% of its operating budget.
This year, however, Commissioners have encouraged other organizations to apply for funding due to a surplus of funds carried over from last year. Candidates for programs for seniors included the Petoskey District Library and the Northwest Michigan Habitat for Humanity.
The board originally intended to grant 90% of the requested funding to all applicants, but removing the remaining 10% for friendship centers would mean a loss of $165,000 from its operating budget.
Last month, Denneen Smith, executive director of the Friendship Centers, expressed concerns about the disbursement of funds and its impact on the organization.
In a September letter, Smith warned of deep cuts if proposed stipends were approved, including recreation programs, staffing, and meal and transportation services.
“What we offer seniors and their families cannot be compared in the same way as any other nonprofit, agency or business in our community,” Smith said Monday. “With rising property tax values, a growing senior population and the cost of providing our services at an all-time high, we are counting on every dollar request in our app and more.
“I respectfully request the Board of Commissioners to fund the Agencies Specific Agencies in the amounts they have requested first and then consider other applicants.”
Smith also encouraged the board to create a formula dedicating a fixed percentage of mileage funds to friendship centers to provide stability in the future.
More than a dozen others spoke about the importance of the centers’ work at Monday’s meeting.
“I think the new demands also serve seniors, but I think they should only be funded if there is a real surplus and it doesn’t take 10% of seniors’ centers and Bay Bluffs” said Petoskey resident Lori Pall.
Sarah Ulrich, executive director of Northwest Michigan Habitat for Humanity, also spoke at the meeting. She said they were unaware when they made their request that it would negatively impact senior center providers and offered a voluntary reduction in the amount requested.
“While we view the work described in our proposal as a vital service to our community, our application also did not intend to draw funds from other existing programs,” she said. “We recognize that there are many organizations serving the needs of our aging population and that resources are limited. We want to be collaborative partners in this work and find a solution that ensures our seniors receive the care and resources they deserve.
Following public comments, the commissioners discussed how to allocate the funds.
Commissioner Matt Koontz suggested funding all requests, but donating the full amounts for the Friendship Centers, Wawatam Area Seniors Center and Bay Bluffs – then following the previous recommendation on the request for library and allocating remaining funds to Habitat for Humanity.
“We need to fund the elderly,” Commissioner David White said.
Subscribe:Consult our offers and read the local news that interests you
Commissioners also checked with County Administrator David Boyer on the legality of approving funds for specific non-senior organizations. The millage language only refers to “programs and activities for seniors”.
“As long as it’s about senior programs and is for seniors, yes, you can fund them,” Boyer said.
The commissioners unanimously approved Koontz’s motion, with one member absent.
The final allocations are:
- Friendship Centers — $1,658,642
- Bay Cliffs – $29,870
- Wawatam Area Senior Center – $64,000
- Petoskey District Library – $12,375
- Habitat for Humanity — $136,295
- Harbor Springs Friendship Center – $42,000
- Management — $2,650
— Contact Jillian Fellows at [email protected]