Budget for senior services liable to increase with expected levy passage

Two things are certain about the May 2 primary election in Franklin County: A) Voter turnout will be very low. B) The 1.75-mill levy for senior services will be approved.

There is not much on municipal or township ballots this spring to pump turnout. Early voting trends have been anemic. The last two similar primaries — in 2009 and 2013 — produced turnouts in the 10 percent range.

The sole countywide issue on the ballot is the 1.75-mill, five-year levy to support programs operated by the Franklin County Office on Aging.

The programs, available to those 60 and older, include home-delivered meals, personal and respite care, homemaker help, minor home repairs, transportation and emergency response. Typical home improvements include installations of wheelchair ramps and smoke detectors.

The Office on Aging also offers court-related protective services such as guardianships, conservatorships and protective orders.

The services are aimed at allowing seniors to live independently and out of nursing homes. As of last year, 9,376 seniors were enrolled in at least one program. About half of those clients pay something toward the cost of their care, based on a means-tested fee schedule.

The prediction of an easy win is based on election results for the program's five previous levy requests:

June 1992 – 0.75-mill – 66.5 percent November 1997 – 0.85-mill – 70.6 percent. May 2002 – 0.85-mill – 81.5 percent. November 2007 – 0.9-mill – 78 percent. November 2012 – 1.3-mill – 62 percent.

That's a winning record any levy-dependent agency would covet, although senior advocates will be watching closely on election night to see if the approval rate dips below 60 percent for the first time.

That's a possibility, given the aggressive increase being sought: 35 percent over the current tax rate.

As the millage history illustrates, the Office on Aging has been on a mission to grow robustly to keep pace with a rapidly aging population.

The 2010 census showed Franklin County had 170,456 persons aged 60 or older. The number is expected to reach nearly 250,000 by 2022, according to the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami (Ohio) University.

By 2020, the Office on Aging expects to be serving 10,757 clients — 15 percent more than in 2016. The population is not just graying. The percentage of seniors with physical and cognitive disabilities also is growing.

For the typical Franklin County property owner, only about 2 percent of the current tax bill goes for senior services. However, that's up from 1 percent a decade ago, and is headed toward 3 percent or more.

Over time, and many elections, taxpayers must decide how much of their property taxes get allocated to schools, libraries, children services, alcohol and drug treatment, developmental disabilities, Metro Parks, the zoo and other services.

In the last decade, the allocation for senior services outpaced those for Metro Parks and the zoo. Based on recent trends, senior services could compete with libraries in the next decade or two.

If approved, the new seniors levy would produce $46.6 million annually, costing the owner of a $250,000 home $138.62 per year.