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Leaders debate funding services for seniors

PROVO — More than one family has argued about what to do with aging parents who can no longer cook, clean and care for themselves. But on Thursday night, complete strangers argued about those parents' well-being.

The Mountainland Association of Governments, which includes leaders from cities in Utah, Wasatch and Summit counties, met Thursday night to discuss funding for senior services.

A January meeting of the executive council led to the formulation of the Senior Services Task Force, which was charged with finding recommendations to a help what it called "a looming crisis."

The task force reported a 58 percent increase in the number of seniors in the MAG service area in the next 10 years. With increased numbers of senior citizens, a result of aging baby boomers, governments and organizations are grappling with how to fund basic programs that keep these seniors in their homes and healthy. Those programs include Meals on Wheels, in-home services and meal programs in senior centers. Issues of transportation for seniors to reach these centers are also part of the crisis.

A short-term recommendation provided by the task force to the executive council focused on prioritizing financial services for what the task force calls the most critical programs — the meal and health programs and senior centers. The task force wants local governments to help by kicking in an extra $400,000 for this next year.

Several million dollars more than the funds spent now will be needed in 10 years in order to provide the same levels of service seniors currently receive, but the task force decided to start with a lower figure that would be more manageable and probable.

Scott McBeth, director of MAG Aging and Family Services Department and a member of the task force, said the increased $400,000 would help to get people off the waiting lists and enhance the programs.

Debate among the council members came when several members of the council said the families of the elderly needed to take more responsibility for their older family members. Several council members agreed but said there needed to be more in place for those whose families couldn't or wouldn't take care of them.

McBeth and Neil Anderton, Wasatch County councilman and MAG member, stressed that programs such as Meals on Wheels keep seniors in their homes and taken care of at a lower cost to taxpayers than if they ended up in a living center, which McBeth said can cost $50,000 to $60,000 a year per person.

Mike McGee, Cedar Hills' mayor, said the programs need to be maintained and enhanced, but not easy for people to abuse.

"(We're) becoming more and more and more each year to a socialistic type state, where people are saying, 'I don't want to take care of my parents, let the city do it for me,"' McGee said. "(It's) not the state or the city or the county's obligation... ," McGee said. "The easier we make it for people to not care for those that are their loved ones, the more they're going to take advantage of that."

The executive council decided to take the recommendations and comments made by council members during the meeting and have the task force address the council again in January with more specific recommendations. Council members will also take the presentation made by the task force to their respective city and county councils for appraisal.