Council keeps Senior Commission

Island seniors will continue to serve on the city’s tenth and newest citizen commission instead of joining the Youth and Family Services Advisory Board.

Last month, the City Council decided to keep the two agencies separate and retain the Senior Commission, a seven-member panel of Islanders, 55 years of age or older, appointed by the mayor. Youth and Family Services Director Cindy Goodwin had suggested that the Council consider disbanding the Commission while the mayor appointed several seniors on the Youth and Family Services Advisory Board. However, the Council chose not to change the YFS board. The YFS advisory board is currently composed of 24 Islanders, an even split of 12 youth and 12 adults. Harriet Weiss, a senior commissioner, told the Council that she would only be satisfied with equal representation on the YFS board, asking for a three-way split of eight seniors, youth and adults.

“Seniors are being ignored at present; that is simply a fact,” said Weiss. “One of the 24 on the YFS board is a senior. They [children] deserve all the attention they can get. I understand youth have problems and are a priority, but were there two, one out of 24 is not an acceptable percentage at all.”

Councilmembers shared concerns about putting seniors and teens together on an advisory board. Several said they did not think that Goodwin would be able to find teenagers willing to discuss senior issues.

“I am worried [about] the YFS board becoming a muddle of getting nothing done,” Councilmember Steve Litzow said. “How do you put three very divergent groups together and come up with something helpful?”

The Council established the Senior Commission in early 2007 on a one-year trial period. Over the past several months, the Senior Commission struggled to develop a concrete work plan in its quarterly meetings. Last spring, they requested more meetings to convene monthly. Commission leaders were also seeking more representation to spread out the workload.

“We were all stretched really, really thin,” said Weiss.

The role of the Mercer Island Senior Commission is to study, review, evaluate and make recommendations to the City Council regarding matters affecting seniors. Commissioners told Councilmembers of the problems that they have in identifying local policies that could help, but a good number of issues were sometimes regional. Weiss said the Commission identified several programs that the city could implement to help seniors with housing. The city currently provides utility bill assistance for low-income seniors. Weiss suggested expanding that to property tax relief, enabling seniors to remain in their homes when living on limited retirement benefits. The city could also subsidize or run programs to install handrails at Island homes. Finally, Weiss said that the neighborhood watch program could integrate seniors and a mail carrier alert program could keep an eye on neighbors.

Other senior issues remain out of the Commission’s reach, such as adding more Metro service.

“Without transportation, you are trapped in place,” Weiss said. “Ten percent of the nation’s drivers are over 65, and we would like to work with Metro to enhance North-end service.”

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