POSEN - The Presque Isle County Council on Aging is asking taxpayers to help support its transportation program due to stagnant funding from one source and cutbacks from others.
The organization is hoping voters will approve a 0.25-mill, five-year levy in November to operate and staff its fleet of blue buses, PICCOA Executive Director Katie Kuznicki said. County residents age 60 and older and those with disabilities can get rides for $5 round-trip. It's $10 for everyone else, and out-of-county trips to Alpena and Cheboygan are $15.
The millage equates to $12.50 annually for a property with $50,000 in taxable value. It'll raise approximately $162,380 in its first year, according to ballot language.
Financial strains have forced PICCOA to temporarily reorganize, closing its Posen kitchen until January and laying off some staff, Kuznicki said in July. It has suspended its monthly trip to Cheboygan until the year's end, implemented waiting lists for its services and increased fares for transportation and donations for congregate and home-delivered meals.
The council receives some of its funding through a county-wide senior services millage, Kuznicki said. While the organization wants to continue providing transportation, the cost of keeping its buses on the road is eating into other programs. A separate, transportation-only millage would allow the organization to better fund its in-home services and meal deliveries.
"We have experienced state and federal cutbacks over the past several years, and more and more of our senior millage, which is focused on overall senior support services, has been going to fund the buses," she said.
During PICCOA's most recent budget year, which ended Sept. 30, approximately 180 people made 5,158 passenger trips, Kuznicki said. The Michigan Department of Transportation reimburses the council and other, similar transportation programs $1.20 per mile. However, the council can only claim so many miles, a limit that hasn't changed in 10 years despite rising fuel costs.
In addition, MDOT has changed its rules for when the organization can get a new bus, board President Gary Wozniak said. In the past, PICCOA and other similar agencies could replace a bus after five years or 100,000 miles. That has changed to seven years or 150,000 miles. This is likely to increase maintenance costs. Plus, the organization now has to pay 7 percent of the bus' final price.
Kuznicki believes the council's transportation program is a worthy one because it helps connect senior citizens and the disabled to the rest of the community, she said. It also provides a degree of independence. By funding the program and allowing the council to redirect money to its other programs, it can help senior citizens stay in their homes longer.
"Without this millage, PICCOA will be very strapped for cash for the next year or more," she said.