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We’re getting older

Workshop looks at how towns can meet needs of aging population

The numbers, in black and white, offer a stark image of the graying of Franklin County that lies ahead.

The segment of the county’s population that’s 70 and older, now 10.4 percent, is expected to more than double to nearly 21.5 percent by 2030.

That proportionally older population is likely to have a dramatic impact on the services that towns are asked to provide, from library services to sidewalks that connect people with their downtowns, says Phoebe Walker, director of community services for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

The COG will sponsor a workshop for town officials and volunteers Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the John W. Olver Regional Transit Center in Greenfield. “Preparing for the Senior Wave: The Aging of Franklin County and its Impacts” will focus on municipal planning for the growing number of senior citizens in the region, where the population of those age 55 and older is expected to increase by 77 percent over the next 25 years.

“We’re going to try to think through together, what’s the impact on local government of the aging population,” Walker said. “We all know we’re getting older, but what does that mean in terms of zoning, senior center services and public health nursing services? It ripples through everything, including emergency shelter planning and, of course, housing and transportation.”

Walker likened the subject to conversations that need to take place on the coming effects of climate change, where more flooding and more tick-borne diseases are already being experienced.

“This is the way our world is changing, and we need to make sure that what government is doing is planned with that in mind,” she said.

The topic is also directly tied to the region’s new Sustainable Master Plan, said Ted Harvey, who is organizing the workshop for the COG.

Some towns have already begun thinking about the implications of the aging population on provision of fire protection, and in trying to provide more for a greater pool of volunteers for their towns.

A recently released set of population projections for the state, the first in a decade, according to the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute, point to overall slow population growth for the remainder of this decade and the next, with a sharp increase in the proportions and numbers of the over-65 population.

Franklin County’s over-65 population is projected to more than double, from 15.2 percent in 2010 to 31.5 percent by 2030.

At the opposite end, the county’s population aged 19 and under is expected to shrink from 22 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2030.

Among the participants will be Cynthia Jacelon, associate professor of nursing at the University of Massachusetts; Roseann Martoccia, executive director of Franklin County Home Care Corp.; and Dave Stevens, Massachusetts Councils on Aging.

The issue isn’t entirely new, and even five years ago, Martoccia was telling the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce that by 2025, we would become part of “a nation of Floridas. We may have the snow, but we’re also going to have a lot of older people.”

Since then, she said, municipalities have had scant financial resources and plenty of competing pressures to invest heavily in preparations for the growing elderly population. But she said that the issue of that population being able to “age in place” close to village center services, will only become more important.

Just as Greenfield is seeing that it’s going to have to provide for more health insurance and other funding for retired town workers, she said, all towns will be facing similar issues as the number of retirees builds and remains essentially stagnant.

“We feel that with these numbers coming, we’re really going to need to plan,” said Martoccia, back in 2008. If anything, she added, the financial realities of the past five years has only made for a greater need for towns and the region to be thinking creatively.

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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