“We’re nowhere near ready,” Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens said at the commission’s annual retreat last Friday.
Issues facing the aging population include housing, transportation, healthy lifestyles and other services, Ahrens said.
“When we get down to transportation, we’ve got a real nut. There’s really very, very, very little mobility other than your own car,” he said.
Commissioners discussed the fact that the senior population will be diverse, and different segments of the population will want and require different services and amenities.
“I see two distinct branches,” Commissioner Harry Johnston said. “One is the relatively affluent retirees who want to retire in place but have a path that will take them into a comfortable old-age scenario. Then there are people, maybe single women living on nothing but Social Security, who need a decent, safe, comfortable place to live that doesn’t cost more than $500 or $600 a month. They might need some way to get to their grocery shopping that doesn’t cost anything.”
Commissioners questioned how large the county government’s role should be in providing senior services.
One thing the county should do to some extent, Johnston said, is remove barriers.
“For the low-income group, there are subsidies that we could offer. We don’t have the money for that, and I don’t know that we want to go down that path,” he said. “Private enterprise won’t completely solve that problem without a subsidy, and I don’t know the answer.”
Allowing developers to build housing for active seniors on smaller lots could open up the door for private development, Johnston said.
“But it will seem to some folks like an excuse to build small-lot houses where we’ve previously said no,” he said.
With commissioners expecting opposition to small-lot neighborhoods coming from people wanting to preserve the rural character of parts of Cherokee County, the board discussed allowing a special senior zoning near areas that already have amenities like grocery stores and pharmacies.
“It’s almost like an ordinance that these developments can be built in a certain way, in a certain spot, in accordance with the land-use plan. Those are three major tasks,” Commissioner Jason Nelms said.
Commissioner Brian Poole, a funeral director, said he thinks Cherokee County is “missing the boat” when it comes to options for still-active seniors.
“I see a lot of women and men who lose their spouse in their 50s or 60s, and they would want to go live in assisted living. Not because they’re in their last days, but to go somewhere comfortable, see people, get their meals prepared for them,” he said. “They can still drive; it’s for people that can go and live and do their own thing.”
Poole also touted memory care and nursing facilities as a way to draw jobs into the county.
Nelms said Cherokee County has a shortage of options for active seniors as well as seniors who need assisted living or nursing care.
Ahrens said county leaders need to raise awareness about Cherokee’s impending growth in senior population.
“This is a train that’s coming,” he said. “We’ve got business opportunities, jobs, and opportunities providing locations for these people.”