Photo by Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Senior Services Director Mary Byrd announced plans Tuesday to lure out-of-county elderly residents back to county's senior centers. She said the centers have lost more than half of their non-Clayton users since higher usage fees were approved in 2010.
Clayton County officials are looking for a proverbial carrot to lure elderly people back to the county’s senior centers.
There were approximately 700 out-of-county seniors using the centers before Clayton commissioners voted in December 2010 to raise center annual usage fees from $10, to $180, for out-of-county residents, according to Clayton Senior Services Director Mary Byrd. The number of out-of-county seniors using the facilities tumbled after the higher fees went into effect, she said, to 182.
So, county commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to change some of the center usage fees again, effective immediately, to get some of those lost senior center users back. Commissioner Michael Edmondson voted against the move.
The county will now drop a $50 administrative fee that seniors had to cough up if they wanted to pay for their user fees on a monthly installment plan. A $2-per-day daily user fee was also created to cater to the casual user of the senior centers. Senior services will also move from charging new annual fees at the beginning of every fiscal year, to only charging renewal fees 12 months after the initial sign-up date.
“It’s our attempt to work with the senior adult population to help bring their friends back to the centers,” Byrd said.
Although the commission voted to make some changes to the fees, they left the usage fee for out-of-county seniors at $180, per year. The fee for Clayton County seniors, which was also raised in December 2010, from $1 a year, to $12 a year, will also remain unchanged.
Byrd said the centers collected approximately $7,000 per year from out-of county residents under the old usage fees. Despite losing several of these seniors, the centers now collect more than $30,000 a year because of the higher fees, she added.
“This [the efforts to recapture lost seniors] is not because we’re losing money,” she said. “We’re actually making more money with the higher fees.”
The dramatic drop in the number of out-of-county seniors using the facilities is not completely unexpected. The fee increases were extremely unpopular with senior center users when they were approved. Seniors protested the higher fees at commission meetings for several months afterward, and demanded the fees be lowered to their original levels.
Byrd and Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said seniors have continued to complain that they missed several of their out-of-county friends who stopped coming to the facilities after the fees were increased. That led to meetings the pair had with the elderly residents this week, to determine ways to get some of the lost seniors to begin coming to the centers again, at least on an occasional basis.
“Our goal was to meet with them, to see if they had any suggestions to be able to actually work around the $180, [and] to see if they had suggestions on how we can do to bring their friends back,” Byrd said. “From our meetings, at both facilities, we actually had the seniors to express what they thought we should do.
“They actually voted on everything, and then we said to them that we would present to the board what we thought was reasonable, and what we thought you may want to listen to.”
She said the new daily usage fee, for instance, would allow out-of-county seniors to take full, unrestricted advantage of the services and programs offered at the centers, while only having to pay for the days they are actually in the facilities.
“The daily user fee would allow any person who is not a member to be able to come in, to enjoy the amenities of the facility, and to take classes,” Byrd said.
Bell said he understands seniors would like to see the out-of-county user fees lowered considerably. He said there would be no fee charged for seniors to use the centers, if it was up to him, but he added he has to stand by the fees because it was a board decision to implement them. Still, he said he is asking elderly residents to work with the county on handling the fee issue.
“We want to be reasonable, and that’s what I’ve asked the seniors to do,” he said. “I’m very pro-senior ... I wouldn’t charge them anything, but the board voted, and I have to uphold the board on this issue.”