MOUNT VERNON — Older adults in Knox County will have a lot at stake in the March 6 primary election, as the Knox County Senior Citizens Levy comes before the voters for a five-year renewal. First enacted in 2002, and renewed in 2007, the levy does not seek any new tax revenues but is a straight renewal of the 0.79 mill presently being collected from Knox County property owners.
Placed on the ballot by the Knox County Commissioners, the senior levy is for operation of services and facilities for senior citizens. The annual assessment for the typical owner of a $100,000 home is $25 according to the Knox County Auditor’s office.
Organizations and facilities which receive funding from the levy must be certified non-profits and go through a formal application process each year. They are funded quarterly and have already received funding through March of this year.
Applications for funding from April 1, 2012, through March 31, 2013, are now being considered by the Commissioners. The total amount of funds generated by the levy for the coming year is $842,000. If the senior levy should fail, the major source of funding for several area agencies would dry up as of April 2013.
Agencies which have applied for funding this year are Centerburg Social Services, Fredericktown Recreation District, Sanctuary Community Action in Danville, Station Break in Mount Vernon and That Place on Market in Danville.
“I think seniors will be very supportive of the levy and hope that all voters will support it as a good expenditure of public moneys,” County Commissioner Teresa Bemiller said. “If it failed, it would be devastating to agencies and drastically reduce their services. Of course, we could place it on the ballot again in the general election, but I hope that won’t be necessary.”
Directors of programs which benefit from the Senior Levy echo Bemiller’s sentiments.
“If it doesn’t pass we’re dead in the water,” said Robin Strayer, director of Centerburg Senior Services. “We have people in Centerburg and several other townships who rely on us for meals and for transportation to see doctors. It’s important to have centers close to seniors, and our services help make it possible for seniors to stay in their homes rather than go to a retirement home.”
Sanctuary Social Services in Danville serves people of all ages, but the funds it receives from the Senior Levy go exclusively to programs for senior citizens.
“We are 100 percent dependent on the levy for our senior programs,” said director Barb Mickley. “We have a hot meals program on Monday through Friday, we have a contract with Home Instead for homemaking assistance and we have a contract with Step Above Lawn Care to help seniors with yard work. We served more than 300 seniors last year and it would be a tragedy if the levy failed.
“Even though it’s a renewal, I’m concerned,” Mickley added. “With the economy the way it is, you just don’t know how the psychological aspect of a levy will go.”
Very much on the mind of levy supporters is the fact that the March 6 primary involves presidential politics and thus will have a larger voter turnout than most years.
“People have different theories on whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing for a levy,” Bemiller said, “but it’s really hard to call.”
In the 2007 primary in which the senior levy was last renewed, it passed by a margin of 55 to 45 percent. On the same ballot, a separate 25-year, 2.1-mill bond issue for senior services was rejected by the electorate.
Agencies that rely on the Senior Levy for funding strive to inform their clients and the voting public about the services it makes possible, and they also get grassroots support from the Knox County Task Force for Older Adults.
Paul Higgins is an Apple Valley resident and a Florida snowbird, but that didn’t keep him out of action as a member of the task force until he headed south with absentee ballot in hand.
“We formed a committee and allocated funds to get the word out, first to the snowbirds and then to the entire county,” Higgins said. “I sent out a Snowbird Alert in October and followed up with visits to senior centers and various church groups to bring the levy to their attention. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Since it is a renewal with minimal impact to property owners, and since the Knox County senior population is growing, I expect strong support.
“After all, everyone knows a senior!”