A local program that serves homebound senior citizens is hoping to secure a grant for construction of a new facility.

The Livingston County Board of Commissioners met recently and approved a resolution to apply for and administer a grant for the Livingston County Senior Nutrition Meals on Wheels program. It delivers hot meals five days a week to senior citizens in all of Livingston County and western Oakland County. Food is prepped out of space at the Hartland Educational Support Service Center building off M-59 but officials were noticed recently that the space will be reduced, which will negatively impact already over-capacity operations. Meals on Wheels serves around 700 seniors every day and for many; it represents the only social contact they’ll receive all day.
With ever-increasing demand, the company that operates the program locally is proposing a plan for the purchase of land and construction of a new facility in Hartland. A $1 (m) million grant is being sought through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation for the project, which requires an equal match. If the grant is approved, Livingston County would commit $500,000 for Community Outreach Services Corporation (COSC) to provide current and future services to citizens of Livingston County under a contract, which would be developed by county administration and legal counsel. COSC would contribute $250,000 and secure a separate $250,000 community catalyst loan to make up the other half of matching funds. It was noted there are two separate contracts between Oakland and Livingston Counties for Meals on Wheels but both need each other to be successful.

Commissioner Dennis Dolan put forth the resolution. COSC has been operating the local program since 1991. Dolan says they’re looking to acquire a piece of property that was recently looked at and build a facility, which would be a kitchen and office combined for the program. He tells WHMI the goal is to better suit and supply the community and meet today’s and tomorrow’s growth rate and on in to the future to take care of more seniors. Dolan says the need is there and the population is ever growing, which is proven by the program itself over the many years and the growth rate it’s had. He says it will only continue to grow, especially in the near future – adding it’s projected the senior population will grow by as much as 40%. Dolan says that obviously doesn’t mean 40% of those will need the program but a good number of them likely will and they’ll be able to meet all of that need. Dolan says the project is for the seniors in Livingston County and if the opportunity comes about where they can do other programs, he’s all for it so they’ll see what the future holds but he’s really thrilled with the position they’re in and if they can get awarded the grant, it will be very meaningful.

There was lengthy discussion at the meeting and concerns were raised about the appropriation setting precedent and opening the door to other requests from organizations but also using taxpayer funds for a non-profit. There were also points made about having deed restrictions or first right of refusal on a building should ownership change. Board Chair Don Parker and Wes Nakagiri were opposed to the resolution. Parker felt general fund money should not go to a specific not-for-profit. Parker stressed he has nothing against Meals on Wheels but believes the appropriation would be precedent setting – adding there are many other not-for-profits that also do good work. Nakagiri put forth two amendments right before the meeting began. The first was approved and was a request that the proposal be contingent on COSC providing full access to examine finances, books, policies and tax returns. Legal counsel affirmed they make sure anyone who contracts with the county provide the board with any relevant financial information as part of contract. The second amendment failed for lack of support and sought to have Meals on Wheels evaluate using kitchen facilities at the Livingston County Jail to prepare food.

Commissioner Kate Lawrence was not pleased with the late presentation of the amendments, as legal counsel typically reviews things before being presented to the board. She noted they’ve had discussions before about getting things at the last minute and she’s uncomfortable getting things presented right before she sits down. Nakagiri acknowledged the issue and said he would find a better way in the future. As for the general conversation, Lawrence noted Meals on Wheels is more than just a knock on the door and food delivery but mental health, companionship and people checking make sure seniors are ok. She noted they are not paying for Oakland County and it’s an investment in the future only if the grant is received so the conversation could be moot. Lawrence added if a millage was ever to be raised for seniors; the county could be reimbursed for the seed money being proposed.

Commissioner Bob Bezotte commented it’s an investment and a good project as there is an aging community and they need take care of seniors down the road. He was in favor of provisions being added to protect taxpayers. (JM)