MISSOULA — Supporters from across western Montana, along with doctors, professors and caregivers asked Missoula County commissioners on Thursday to place a mill levy on the June ballot to support Missoula Aging Services. Commissioners agreed to do so.
The ballot measure will ask Missoula County voters to repeal the existing $350,000 dedicated to the program in 2007 and replace it with 4 mills, which would generate around $750,000 a year.
That revenue, advocates said, would set Missoula Aging Services up for success for the future and enable it to meet growing demand as Missoula’s population ages and the number of older adults grows.
But that’s not the only population served by Missoula Aging Services, according to executive director Susan Kohler.
“It’s not unusual due to longevity that people are living longer and we can often be serving someone in their 90s, as well as their adult child in their 70s,” said Kohler. “That doesn’t take into account the number of people who are being caregivers for their family who come to us to better understand and navigate the very complex, long-term care system.”
Since its founding in 1982, Missoula Aging Services has evolved to provide a number of services to older adults, helping them navigate everything from aging to dementia, Medicaid and Social Security.
It’s also serving more older adults than ever before, though its funding hasn’t increased in 15 years. Meanwhile, the population of senior adults in Missoula County has grown 40% over the last decade and those aged 74 and older has grown by 22%
“We need to sustain services to the older people of our community. These services enable the elderly to live in their home with dignity and respect. The services are in high demand and the poplution is growing. We need to make sure we’re keeping up with the need.”
The county recognized the demand for services that cater to older adults 40 years ago and established Missoula Aging Services as a nonprofit.
That helped consolidate the funding needed to support older adults, enabling the program to disperse the revenue more acutely to meet local needs. But current funding isn’t enough to keep pace with the growing needs.
“Our primary goal is to provide the tools and skills, and connect people to the resources that are necessary for them to live in their own home and in their communities for as long as possible,” said Travis Hoffman of Summit Independent Living. “Many of those services that allow people to live in their homes and in their own communities are services Missoula Aging Services provides.”
Among its many programs, the program aids in assisted living, how to choose a nursing home, offers programs on dementia, advice on aging in place and support for caregivers.
It also runs the Meals on Wheels program and helps older adults navigate complex programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
If approved by voters, the 4 mill levy would cost $3.69 for every $100,000 on a home’s taxable value, generating around $750,000 for the program.
“I can assure the commissioners and the taxpayers they’re making good use of whatever funding they get,” said retired professor Dan Dole. “They can leverage that relatively small amount of money to do tremendous good in the community.”