2017-04-27 / News

Mayor presents survey results about aging in city

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer

Mayor Roland Michaud speaks before an audience of about 70 people in a formal roll-out of Saco’s age friendly initiative. He implored members of the audience to ask themselves, “How can I help?” (Garrick Hoffman photo) Mayor Roland Michaud speaks before an audience of about 70 people in a formal roll-out of Saco’s age friendly initiative. He implored members of the audience to ask themselves, “How can I help?” (Garrick Hoffman photo) SACO – As part of its new age friendly initiative, Saco Mayor Roland Michaud fielded questions and presented survey results to a crowd of about 70 people in Garland Auditorium at Thornton Academy. He also implored audience members to volunteer within the community.

The Saco Age Friendly Steering Committee was formed last year after the city council determined it wanted to make Saco more age friendly. Saco is one of 13 communities in Maine recognized by AARP – or the American Association of Retired Persons – as being age friendly. AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan social welfare organization with nearly 38 million members that “helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for the issues that matter most to families, such as health care, employment and income security, and protection from financial abuse,” according to its website.

The World Health Organization defines an age friendly city as being more accessible and responsive to the specific needs of older persons, and describes a city’s aging policy as one that optimizes opportunities for health, participation and security to enhance quality of life as people age.

“We want to create a community for a lifetime,” Michaud said. “That’s the goal.”

The committee recently acquired office space in the annex building behind city hall, which will be shared with downtown revitalization organization Saco Main Street.

In September 2016 the steering committee, lead by community volunteers Jean Saunders and Don Sharland, with a mission to optimize opportunities for health, safety and engagement and to remove barriers that prevent seniors from remaining in their homes while they age, sent a survey to Saco residents to better understand the needs of older residents and support healthy aging. The survey was funded through the AARP’s Age-Friendly Community Initiative. Analytic Insight, a professional research firm based in Lewiston, was hired to compile survey results and develop a report with its findings.

One thousand surveys were mailed to residents selected at random from a voter list of Saco residents older than 55. It was also available on the internet and links were emailed to residents with email addresses available to the city, according to Analytic Insight’s report. About 400 people responded.

Among some of the findings is 79 percent – or almost eight out of 10 –Saco residents rated the city as an excellent or good place to live as they age. More than half said it’s very important for them to remain in the city as they age, with more than 90 percent saying it’s at least somewhat important.

However, the report exemplified an overwhelming concern about property taxes, with many respondents – all anonymous – expressing that taxes are too high.

“That’s why we moved to an elderly retirement home,” one respondent said.

“You are driving people away with taxes. Taxes, taxes, taxes,” according to another respondent.

“Saco should stop property tax increase after you hit 70,” said another respondent. “Other cities/states don’t (increase taxes), so why us?”

According to survey results, more than 65 percent of Saco residents who took the survey are in an age range of 70 to 79, and more than 41 percent of residents have been in Saco for 20 or more years. Almost half of Saco residents said they were unsure if information about services and resources to support aging is easy to find, but nearly the same amount said information about community events and local activities is easy to find.

Besides reasons pertaining to climate, the need for public transportation and other transportation options was cited as the main reason to leave Saco, with 51 percent of respondents saying it’d impact their decision to move. More than 94 percent claimed to use a personal vehicle, and more than 85 percent cited having a valid driver’s license and the ability to drive as being very important to travel in Saco.

Michaud said he was particularly surprised by the jump of needs from residents 70 to 80 years old and the needs for those older than 80. Respondents older than 80 reported caregiving services and home-delivered meals as services they are interested in.

The majority of respondents listed home services such as roof or window repairs and seasonal services such as snow removal as being very important, and more than 84 percent said trustworthy home repair contractors are very important.

Saunders said Saco is working on issues related to transportation, home repair needs and access of information related to aging. A transportation committee will begin work soon, and the age friendly committee has begun creating a resource directory to foster easier access to information about aging.

Additionally, a home handyman committee has begun to discuss how to create a resource for seniors who need home repair services, Saunders said. Other age friendly communities in Maine, such as Bowdoinham and Harpswell, have similar resources wherein volunteers offer time and skills to conduct necessary repairs such as constructing wheelchair ramps, installing grab bars and replacing lights.

“The more we collaborate with our neighbors, the more successful we can be,” Saunders said. “This is a grassroots volunteer effort and we need volunteers.”

As an effort to encourage community members to volunteer, participants at the presentation were given forms to fill out that list skills and areas in which they were willing to help within the community.

“As you listen to various speakers, I suggest the most important question you can ask is, ‘How can I help?’” Michaud said. “How can I work to make Saco become an age friendly community where our neighbors can live independently, recognizing that I someday may be the one needing their help?”

The committee received 47 volunteer forms at the end of the presentation.

“That’s an amazing result. That’s pretty phenomenal,” Saunders said.

Although Michaud said the goal is to create a community for a lifetime, it can only materialize if people help.

“All of this is going to continue to be a work in progress,” he said. “However, none of this will happen unless we all step up and make it happen.”

To contact the Age Friendly Steering Committee, call 808-2021, or email agefriendlysaco@gmail.com.

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