FCEDC seeks approval for senior living study





The Finney County Economic Development Corp. decided Wednesday to seek the approval of the county and city commissions to hire a consultant to perform a retirement and senior living study.

FCEDC is looking to spend $20,000 to hire the Buckley Group, a Colorado-based health care consulting and management group, to take a look at the need in Finney County for senior housing, assisted living and full-service senior care facilities.

"It is a study that is a little more expensive than the regular housing survey was that we did last year, but I think it's considerably more in-depth, and considerably more complicated to obtain this information rather than just general housing (information)," Tom Walker, board chairman, said.

That general housing study cost about $10,000, according to the FCEDC.

Funding for the study is not in the FCEDC's budget, which means the board will take its request to the Finney County and Garden City commissions and seek money from a joint special projects fund to which both entities contribute.

Lona DuVall, FCEDC president, said the idea of the study came from conversations with individuals in the local medical community who asked what the FCEDC was doing to address senior housing and skilled nursing care.

"They felt like, as our community has been growing so well and things have been going well, one thing we haven't focused on and one thing we're exporting out is our seniors. They're leaving the community, either for medical care purposes or for a retirement living setting that we don't offer here," DuVall said.

Researching potential consultants led to the Buckley Group. According to Buckley's website, the firm offers expertise in three main areas: market studies, business plans and strategy development, with a focus on helping hospitals, retirement communities and other health care and social service providers find and implement operational and strategic solutions.

DuVall said taking a look at senior living issues also could create opportunities to address housing and quality of life issues, plenty of reasons why the study fits as an economic development project. DuVall noted that she recently met a couple from California who moved here after retiring, had no family here, just picked Garden City because they liked the climate and lower cost of living.

If Finney County can market itself as a good place to retire, it would be a benefit, DuVall said, and there is interest among developers who specialize in building senior living facilities to enter the Garden City market should the study indicate demand exists.

"The study is necessary from their standpoint for the financing side," DuVall said.

Walker said many seniors who live in their own homes may be looking to move into a smaller apartment or facility. If that happens, those homes could go on the general market and help alleviate some of the housing crunch in the community.

Board member Gary Newman said he personally knows families who have had a senior member who moved quite a distance away to find a senior living facility.

"From what I've seen those families go through and what my family's gone through ... there's certainly a need in this area for it," he said.

Beverly Schmitz Glass, Downtown Vision executive director, who happened to attend the FCEDC meeting, said a majority of the housing requests downtown come from seniors looking to downsize from three or four bedroom homes into a condo-style unit they would take if available.

"They don't qualify for low-income housing, but there's really no nice place for them to downsize. I have a growing list of those looking, kind of like young professionals in a sense, for loft living, a couple bedrooms and that sort of thing," she said.

The request will go to the city and county commissions some time in October.

In other business Wednesday:

* Walker reported to the board about the sales tax discussion with the county commission that took place last week.

The county is in the process of drafting a resolution that would lead to a special election in March seeking an extension of a quarter-cent sales tax to pay for a court services related building project.

Currently, the sales tax is being used to pay for cost of improvements made in the past to the Law Enforcement Center. Bonds for that project are anticipated to be paid off by next June. The county, Garden City and Holcomb contribute to the tax, which generates $1.8 million to $2 million per year.

To get on the ballot in March, the county needs to prepare and approve a resolution by the end of December. Questions still to be addressed in coming weeks are how much money is needed, the scope of the project, and the length of the tax extension.

Another question will be whether Garden City and Holcomb will participate in an extension. Both communities contribute sales tax receipts toward the LEC tax. The cities could decide to let their portions of the tax expire, contribute a portion of their shares of the tax toward the county's project, or use the money for some other purpose.

Though the county is focused on the court services building project, Walker said there's still a possibility the county could put a portion of the LEC tax into a fund for economic development use.

"We're just kind of on the fringe of that (discussion) right now. Hopefully, without going out and generating our own sales tax issue, we can be included as economic development in part of those funds that will be available," he said.

DuVall emphasized that the FCEDC doesn't want to change its operation budget. If a portion of sales tax were allocated to economic development, it would be kept by the county in a fund the county controls.

* DuVall reported that less than 100 job seekers attended the Sept. 10 Finney County job fair. The fair included 21 employers who had more than 100 jobs available, she said.

"Turns out, we just don't have much unemployment going on right now," DuVall said. "It was a little discouraging for the employers. In visiting with them it was exactly what they experienced when advertising for help. There's just not a lot of available workforce out there right now."

Businesses across the board have indicated to DuVall that their biggest concern is finding people to fill jobs. Walker said the FCEDC will need to do some major labor force recruitment.

According to the state, Finney County's unemployment rate is 4.1 percent, a figure DuVall is skeptical about.

"We've questioned that rate numerous times and they can't back it up, where they're getting those numbers from," she said. "However, even though it sounds higher than what we know it to be, the state considers that you're always going to have 3 percent unemployment. If that's the case, then we're 1.1 percent true unemployment rate, which may be a little closer to accurate."

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