Sedgwick County Manager Tom Stolz says it’s time for a comprehensive look at how programs that serve seniors are funded.
“One thing I want to do in the upcoming six months is I want a top-to-bottom analysis for the (county’s) aging department, making sure we are comparative with other aging departments across the country of similar size. Are we spending the right amount on nutrition, senior centers and all these various programs that we provide for seniors? Are we spending the right proportion of dollars when we compare ourselves with best practices?”
Stolz said he has “heard enough debate about aging funding and is it enough or is it not enough” to warrant the analysis. The review will go beyond total spending to look at “is everybody across the board getting their fair share of the allocation or is it being hoarded in one place or another.”
Stolz was named county manager in February, after previously serving as deputy county manager and interim county manager.
The review he’s planning won’t be done in time to affect the 2020 budget. Stolz’s staff is recommending an increase in spending for some senior-related programs next year, but one county commissioner says it’s doesn’t go far enough.
County staff added $60,000 to the proposed budget for a senior nutrition program that will operate in the county, similar to Meals on Wheels program that Senior Services, Inc. runs in Wichita. Stolz also asked commissioners to approve an additional $17,628 to be split between four senior centers.
Jim Howell, who represents District 5, said he appreciates those moves but is concerned “that it’s one-time spending. Just because they get it this year doesn’t mean it’s going to carry over to next year.”
The additional senior center funds are earmarked computer equipment in Valley Center, $5,322; a chair yoga program in Haysville, $2,500; technology classes and community dances in Mulvane, $6,770; and computers in Park City, $3,036.
Stolz, however, said that the increased funding “will be recurring.”
“They’re going to get that same amount of money next year.”
The additional funding for senior programs is about .02 percent of the county’s $437 million proposed budget, which would grow by 3.2 percent overall compared to 2019.
Howell said he’s also worried that Stolz’s planned analysis of aging programs could backfire for elderly residents.
“I appreciate any comprehensive analysis, but I’m concerned that it may lead to reductions in funding.”
Stolz said he can’t respond to that “because we haven’t done the study.” Whatever the study finds, Stolz said, budget decisions are ultimately up to county commissioners.
Howell and others have argued that it’s time for the county to generate more money through the aging mill levy overwhelmingly approved by voters in 1982, noting that the population of senior residents has grown greatly since then. That vote authorized commissioners to levy up to 1 mill to pay for aging services. The county currently collects less than half of that, in effect leaving millions of dollars on the table.
Under the proposed 2020 budget, the aging mill levy would be set at .468 mill, generating $2.8 million for senior-related services and programs.
“I hope to make some tweaks to this budget,” Howell said. “I’m not satisfied this is where we should be on the aging budget.”
The county funds 15 senior-related programs, ranging from the aforementioned Meals on Wheels and senior centers to commodities distribution, medical transportation, health screenings and adult day care. Nearly 12 percent of county residents are 65 and older, a demographic that’s growing.
Stolz said the budget reflects the priorities and consensus of commissioners, who are elected.
The senior-related services budget will be part of a budget hearing at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6, at which the public is invited to speak. It will be held in commission chambers at the courthouse, 525 N. Main St.