Written by Karry Britt

Lawrence Journal World

Public transportation and property taxes.

Those were the two main topics that came up time and time again when discussing the needs of Douglas County seniors during a legislative forum Wednesday at the Lawrence Public Library. About 45 people attended.

The 17 candidates and officials running for and representing state and local offices seemed to agree that Lawrence needs a public transportation system so seniors aren't forced into nursing homes.

"We need to have the transportation that is essential to letting people continue to live in their homes," said State Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence.

He also pointed out that such a transportation system can help draw local high school and Kansas University graduates back to the community for retirement, which in turn can boost the economy.

"I strongly hope that voters don't turn their back on it because it is an essential component to creating that environment that we need to have," he said.

Candidates and officials also said that keeping property taxes down is important to becoming a retirement destination.

Jim Flory, a County Commission candidate, said he has high school friends who are gravitating back here and that the housing costs make them think twice. He recently visited with seniors whose income isn't just flat, but diminishing.

"We have to make housing affordable," he said. "We need to hold down property taxes."

The candidates and officials talked about how the graying population is a valuable resource for the community. Seniors provide knowledge and expertise. They make good volunteers and can pump money into the economy.

"When working with the budget, we need to remind ourselves that we need to honor our senior citizen population and remember to reward them as much as possible because they have invested so much into their community for most of their lives," said Nancy Thellman, a County Commission candidate.

Mary Ellen DesChamps, 74, was glad to hear unity among the state and local candidates and officials at the fourth annual forum sponsored by the Interagency Network for Aging.

However, she said the candidates and officials needed to "think outside the box."

For example, DesChamps said there is a need for companionship and volunteers at Vermont Towers, 1101 Vt., where she lives. She would like to see more programs that match the younger generations with the older ones.

"There are needs that are not money," she said. "Sometimes, it's just about a love for people and a respect for people."