Senior Millage Proposal on August Ballot

Diane w Jim Harris
Jim Harris (75) with Diane Durian, South County Community Services senior outreach director, who helped him cut through the bureaucracy to get medical help.

By Sue Moore

Services for senior citizens for many years have been offered by the South County Community Services agency in this area. “We have only scratched the surface of what is needed for seniors,” said Danna Downing, the agency’s executive director.

Now Kalamazoo County government has placed a .35-mill property tax proposal on the August primary election ballot so voters can decide whether to fund services to seniors in a more inclusive way. If the proposal passes, it would bring Kalamazoo County more in line with services provided to seniors in surrounding counties, such as Calhoun, Van Buren, Allegan and St. Joseph, Downing pointed out. Of Michigan’s 83 counties, voters in 73 have approved property taxes for seniors to supplement what’s available through state and federal funds allocated through the state’s Area Agencies on Aging.

The millage, if approved, would cost the owner of a home with a taxable valuation of $100,000 $35 annually.

Proponents of the tax increase cite the aging population of baby boomers who have unmet needs in housing, food provisions, health care and aging-in-place situations. And they cite statistics to show that it is cost-effective to provide in-home support when compared with costs of assisted living or nursing homes.

An opponent of the millage proposal, County Commissioner John Gisler, R-Scotts, agrees that the services are needed but contends they could be provided through other county funding mechanisms of the county. These have yet to be identified by Gisler in his public presentations.

Jim and Virginia Shaw and Bill Oswalt recently sent a letter to residents of South County in support of the millage, saying the money will help to provide essential, affordable services for vulnerable citizens and their caregivers, to assure they age safely with the quality of life they deserve. In addition, the funds would provide for other critical services such as adult day care, respite care, home safety repairs, outreach services to isolated seniors, escorted transportation, elder abuse prevention, support for a long-term care ombudsman and healthy living classes, they said.

Downing cites a prime example of a person that her agency has supported. “Walden Pond is probably the most famous writing of Henry David Thoreau. For Vicksburg’s Jim Harris, it was a book that shaped his life goal to live life simply and with self-reliance. ‘I always have been healthy and strong and able to work hard with my hands. But I have the Harris gene,’ Jim said with a chuckle, ‘and when I turned 77, I thought that, like my siblings, I was crashing toward the end of my life.’ That was when his friends and neighbors reached out to South County Community Services for assistance. That was also when Jim met his ‘guardian angel,’ Diane Durian, the senior outreach coordinator at SCCS.”

“Harris told us, ‘I was so surprised at the amount of energy Diane spent helping me get the information and help I needed to get the medical care that saved my life.’ Because he had been so healthy, Jim did not have a doctor and could not find all the paperwork required for medical care coverage. Together he and Diane gathered up all the pieces, starting with proof of his graduation from Kalamazoo Central High School and ending with successful implementation of health coverage so that he could have needed surgery. The tables were turned and all the bread he had baked and custom wood working he had done for his friends came back to him in life-restoring ways. Friends and neighbors partnered with Diane to provide chore support, healthy meals and whatever else was needed to get him back on his feet. Like many other seniors in the more rural parts of Kalamazoo County, Jim needed some help. With that help, Jim was able to come back into the community to share his gifts, talents and lovely sense of humor.”

The Oswalt and Shaws’ support letter asks for more senior professionals who will be able to contract with AAA to provide the type of services that saved Jim Harris’ life. For more information about the Say YES to Seniors on August 7 millage proposal, go to

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