Council ponders needs of seniors


The Columbia Council brainstormed ways to better serve the community's aging population, discussing ideas ranging from expanded transportation opportunities to home maintenance services.

At a session Thursday night that was part of its strategic planning process, the council examined how to address older adults' needs within 10 years from a financial standpoint and in terms of commitment to the community.

"What do we want the association to be providing in the future, whether we're doing it now or not?" said Rob Goldman, the Columbia Association's vice president for sport and fitness, who led the discussion.

Council members agreed that transportation would be a key issue in catering to the needs of older adults.

They talked about the possibility of bringing association programs to senior-living facilities, providing transportation through the association or pushing for more services from Howard County.

They also wanted to make sure older adults could afford to take advantage of the association's programs and amenities, such as pools and golf courses.

"Our position has always been that those people who have a financial need ... we want to find a way for them to participate," Goldman said.

Currently, 5,816 Columbia residents - 9.3 percent - who are 55 and older hold Columbia Association memberships, said Donna DuPree, the association's director of marketing.

In 2000, the number of older adults in Columbia was 14,872, an increase of almost 70 percent from the previous year, she said.

"If we stay where we are, we're going to be losing money. This is a growing population; we want to bring them in," Councilman Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance said, referring to the number of older adults who are members of the association.

Council members also discussed ways to help older adults maintain their homes while meeting the covenant guidelines. One suggestion was to provide a leaf pickup service.

"We are tree city - every year more trees are growing and more leaves are falling," said Councilman Wolfger Schneider of Harper's Choice. "And it gets worse and worse if you can't handle it."

Other issues discussed included increasing arts activities and opportunities for socializing as well as meeting older adults' safety needs in areas such as pathways, lakes and parks.

Looking at the list of suggestions the council had developed, Schneider said the group should consider culling services the county also provides.

The council has been working on its strategic planning since last year, trying to tackle the town's greatest needs by coming up with a list of six issues. The council has held town meetings and conducted a survey to obtain public input.

At their retreat this month, council members consolidated those issues into four: adjusting programs and services to meet evolving needs; pursuing external advocacy issues on behalf of the community; maintaining Columbia's vision; and improving governance.

The councilors are brainstorming potential plans to address those issues and will later select strategies to implement.

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