Sundance Times - Continuing the Crook County News Since 1884

Voters to decide on senior services levy


July 30, 2020

For the second time, voters will be asked at the general election this year to signal whether they support a mill levy for Crook County’s seniors. A political action committee has been formed to inform the public of why it’s so important to keep it going.

“The initial mill levy initiative was passed in 2018 and at that point in time it ran for two years, so it’s now back up on the ballot in November,” says Terry Wilkerson, chairman of the Senior Mill Levy Support Group. “If it’s passed on the general election, it will run for an additional four years.”


The mill levy passed fairly easily the last time it was on the ballot, Wilkerson says, but the committee is not taking it for granted that voters will feel the same this time around.

“Things have changed somewhat from two years ago when it came up on the initial ballot. Our state economy has changed dramatically, oil and gas and coal are down, so everybody is cutting their budgets,” he says.

On the other hand, these issues have made the mill levy more important than ever, he says.

“Both state and federal grants have declined. First of all, there are fewer state and federal grants, and those that are out there are for smaller amounts than they used to be,” he says.

Over the last two years, says Wilkerson, the mill levy has been used to support a wide range of programs. To do this, it has been used largely as matching funds for grants.

“Crook County Senior Services has to put in X amount in order to qualify for a grant and the percentage of match has gone up. That’s truly where the mill levy comes in and is so essential for CCSS, because in the past we had to rely on donations, bequests after death and fundraisers, and all three of those don’t bring in a lot of money compared to the mill levy.”

Wilkerson points out that a mill levy is not a great deal of money for an individual citizen.

“In a nutshell, for every $100,000 of property value, you will pay roughly $10 in taxes per year,” he explains. “To me, that’s fairly insignificant given what our seniors reap from all those programs and services.”

Conversely, Wilkerson argues that the difference this money makes to the lives of local seniors is incalculable. Since October, the mill levy has been used to provide 6942 meals, 88 hours of skilled nursing, 179 hours of personal care and 426 hours of homemaking, among numerous other things.

This is offered at a much lower price for a senior than it actually costs to achieve, Wilkerson says. For example, on average, it costs $10-14 to provide a nutritious, hearty meal to a senior or disabled person by the time you factor in staff, ingredients and delivery.

“We ask for a $4 donation but, if they can’t afford that, they just make a donation of whatever they can,” Wilkerson says. “It’s the same with home care services: our people go out and do light house cleaning, medications [etc.] and some of them pay as little as $2 per hour for their work. Obviously, that’s costing us $25-28 per hour for them to go out there and do that, but it’s the right thing to do to take care of our seniors in Crook County.”

Not only does this save the seniors money, it has a beneficial knock-on effect for their families, he says.

“If an individual family member had to go out and provide those services for a relative, it would be an enormous cost to them. Yes, it’s an additional tax, but it’s very insignificant when you look at the overall picture,” he says.

Wilkerson asks the community to vote for the mill levy on the ballot this year and continue to support seniors by doing so.

“I equate it to school taxes. Many of us don’t have children in school and yet every year we pay school taxes to support the young people in our communities because they are the lifeblood of our cities, counties and nation long term,” he says.

“Conversely, we can’t forget about the seniors on the other end when they are at the end of their lifespan.”


There are two reasons to think twice about voting for the mill levy, says Ted Davis, long-time Crook County Republican Party official. The first is that the mill levy is a tax and that’s something a Republican should be wary of on general principle.

“You are taking revenues from the individual and putting it into the hands of the government for distribution,” he says. “That, to me, is always to be avoided if possible.”

Collecting tax and redistributing the proceeds appears in lots of different places in society, he says, such as for public health or education. In the latter of those two examples, he says, you can see the downsides as well as the benefits.

“The greatest benefit goes towards those families with children in school, but there are a lot of people who don’t have children in school and may not be real excited about paying the taxes,” he explains. “However, there are residual benefits to an economy when you have a higher level of education, so it really has to be well thought out by voters as to whether the benefits are significant enough. I think with education you can make a pretty good claim that the benefits are significant enough broadly across society.”

But is that true for senior services? Davis wonders if the services couldn’t be provided in other ways.

“The biggest problem with new taxes or expanding taxes is that you’re really just taking money from one person, plugging it into the government and thinking the government is going to use it better than the individuals could,” he says.

“From a Republican perspective, we tend to talk a lot about a reduction in the size of government and encouraging people to take care of some of those needs as a community.”

This brings Davis to the second reason a mill levy might not be the best way to approach senior services. When it comes to such things as offering rides to medical appointments, he believes community members haven’t needed to step up and help because the service was available – but they would, if they knew there was a need.

“At some levels, you’re denying that opportunity to people in the community who might otherwise volunteer,” he says. Placing such services in the hands of the government and essentially washing our own hands of the responsibility is perhaps not a good way to run a society, he says.

Davis suggests that doing things this way may actually have had a detrimental effect on communities. In the “old days”, he says, organizations such as churches and auxiliaries would organize support for seniors and the community would pitch in.

“Because the government has taken so much of that function, or we’ve defaulted it to the government, we really don’t have those volunteer services that we once had, or at least they’re diminished,” he says.

Again, he says, this can be seen in many areas of modern life. For example, providing support for new parents is now a function of public health, rather than the extended family of the couple.

“Have we discouraged a strong family unit by saying the government can handle the training of new moms? That would be unfortunate if we did, and those are the kinds of things we’ve done a lot in society – and it catches up,” he says.

“As we push more things into the hands of government and we tax ourselves to do it, in some ways almost relieving ourselves of the responsibility of doing it, are we creating a society that isn’t necessarily as strong as it could be?”

The senior services mill levy will appear on the ballot at the general election in November.


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