The Graying of Baltimore County

June 02, 1995

Baltimore County officials are increasingly occupied with the problems common to a suburban jurisdiction in middle age. Alleys and roads throughout the county cry out for repaving. School buildings demand remodeling or whole replacement. Even the lovely saplings that once lined sidewalks have grown into unruly giants with tangled limbs and roots bursting through pavement.

Not the least of the county's aging commodities is its population, which already is remarkably large and expanding at a rate topped only by the seniors of Dade County, Fla. Among all Maryland subdivisions, Baltimore County has the highest number of residents over 60, at about 135,000, or almost a fifth of the county's population. Twenty-five years from now, with medical advances extending life spans and the Baby Boom generation settling into its golden years, Baltimore County will be home to some 204,000 senior citizens. That would be nearly 100,000 above the number of local public school students at the time, officials predict.

The county currently tends to its elderly with programs at 18 senior centers and three adult day-care facilities. The work of the 248 employees of the county's Department of Aging is supplemented by 3,000 volunteers who contribute 350,000 hours a year. However commendable, these efforts still appear to fall short of the need.

The saga of the Loch Raven Senior Center illustrates how even more could be done. The center was one of four closed in February 1993 by then-County Executive Roger B. Hayden's budget reductions. While continuing to gather on their own, some ex-clients of Loch Raven have lobbied to re-open their beloved facility. The pressure paid off in a small victory last week when the county announced it would fund limited hours at the center starting in July. Little else can be done in this time of flat revenues and rising costs.

Meantime, Department of Aging officials nervously await the impact of budget-slashing in Washington. About a fourth of their $5.8 million budget comes from the federal government. Charles L. Fisher Jr., the new director of the county agency, says, "Everything's up in the air. We don't know yet what will happen. We're considering the 'what ifs' and looking at using more volunteer help."

That's short-term. Long-range solutions are even tougher to plan in this fiscal climate. Nevertheless, Baltimore County would be foolish to wait until into the next century to prepare for serving a populace growing ever more gray.

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