Fayette Senior Services hit with ‘silver tsunami’

Fayette Senior Services Director Debbie Britt speaks at a town hall meeting March 29 in Fayetteville. Photo/Ben Nelms.

Director says center needs more help from Fayette County following projected state and federal cuts

It is not a time of crisis, but it is a time of need.

That was the message relayed Monday night by Debbie Britt, director of the non-profit Fayette Senior Services (FSS), at the first of several town hall meetings geared to address the current funding shortfall that will hit July 1.

“FSS is not in crisis mode and I could balance the budget in five minutes with a red pen, but somebody loses. I can’t stand the thought that somebody in Fayette County is going without a meal tonight. And not everybody can afford a higher membership fee,” Britt said. “We don’t sell widgets so we can’t just raise our prices if we’re going to serve the most vulnerable part of our population.”

FSS generates approximately $700,000 per year through its own programs and receives just under $400,000 from state and federal sources.

Britt said FSS is asking that the Fayette County Commission continue its $112,000 contribution to the organization for congregate and home meals and is requesting that the county for now pick up the $140,000 shortfall in social services, for a total of $252,000.

“For right now we’re asking for a reasonable and more equitable support from the county to cover the shortfall in social services,” Britt told the group in the FSS dining room.

The $139,902 shortfall beginning in July will come from a variety of budget areas, Britt said. Those include congregate meals, adult day care, case management, information and assistance, non-emergency transportation, volunteer development and in-home services.

Britt said FSS receives approximately 8 percent of its funding from Fayette County with 30 percent of that funding coming from federal sources. Various grants represent 14 percent of FSS funding. And FSS through its own programs, fund-raising efforts and donations self-funds nearly 45 percent of its operation.

Many other senior services groups in metro Atlanta counties see local funding of between 33 and 82 percent, said Britt.

Britt said FSS continues to implement a variety of cost-cutting and cost-saving measures, with its current 11 full-time and 15 part-time employees receiving no salary increases in 2009 and no health benefits. FSS is also supported by 300 volunteers who donate nearly 22,000 hours of service annually.

“We’re not looking for a free ride,” said Britt. “It’s just that a ‘silver tsunami’ is coming.”

Fayette County in 2009 was estimated to have a population of 107,000. Of that number approximately 27,000 residents, or roughly 25 percent, were ages 55 and older. That represents an increase of 62 percent just since 2000, Britt said.

But that is only the beginning. Britt said a “silver tsunami” will arrive in a continuous fashion so that by 2040 Fayette’s population of residents 55 and older will have increased by 450 percent.

That increase dramatically overshadows the increases forecast throughout much of the Atlanta metro area during the same period.

For example, the next largest increase in the senior population will come in Henry County where the increase will be under 300 percent. Most of the 10-county area will see increases in senior populations of 100-200 percent.

FSS is developing plans to produce additional revenue streams that will help the organization maintain and increase its independence from governmental funding. Those emerging plans include working with corporations, churches and other organizations to add to revenues in a demographic landscape that will only see a dramatic increase in the number of people wanting and needing the array of services that FSS provides.

“We need to look at our reach in the future,” Britt said.

The FSS Center in Fayetteville opened in January 2008. Since that time the center has experienced a 6,000 percent increase in membership, with 2,800 active members. Of those, 75 percent regularly participate in FSS activities.