New data shows that Kenai Peninsula Borough residents are both older and younger than average.
According to a report released by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the Gulf Coast Region of Alaska, the economic region which includes the Kenai Peninsula Borough, has the highest percentage of residents aged 65 years or older.
In 2014, the report estimated that senior citizens made up 13 percent of the Gulf Coast Region’s population. The borough contributed heavily to that figure by having 14 percent of its population be 65 years of age or older. In the state of Alaska, senior citizens make up 10 percent of the total population.
While the borough has an older population compared to most of Alaska, it is still has a lower percentage of senior citizens than the national average. In 2013, the most recent age data available from the U.S. Census Bureau, 14.1 percent of the United States population was 65 or older. That same year, only 13.6 percent of borough residents were 65 or older.
Rachael Craig, director of the Kenai Senior Center and Vintage Pointe Manor, said that she has seen a significant increase in seniors during her 14-year tenure.
She said that in the past she recalled having 25 people require home meal deliveries, and now that number has nearly tripled. Craig said that Vintage Pointe, a 40-unit housing complex for independent seniors, has a waiting list 130 people long.
Craig said that advancement in health services has helped the aging population. She also said that the Senior Center provides numerous activities including yoga and tai chi in order to keep seniors active.
“I think we have healthier seniors,” Craig said. “We have a wonderful population of seniors on the Kenai Peninsula that want to stay healthy and keep their brains active.”
Other facilities in the region are also busy.
At Heritage Place, a nursing facility located in Soldotna, 57 of its 60 licensed beds were occupied as of Monday.
Charlie Franz, administrator of Heritage Place, said that he hasn’t seen an unusual or drastic increase in patients’ age at the facility.
“It’s been pretty consistent,” Franz said.
However, Franz said that people who use the facility now are generally sicker compared to people who used it in the past. He said that people are able to live at home longer due to various programs in the community.
There are other theories as to why the borough has a higher percentage of seniors than many other parts of Alaska.
“It’s a beautiful place to live,” Franz said. “It’s a nice part of Alaska. You come here and son-of-gun you wake up one day and you’re still here.”
Terry Eubank, city of Kenai Finance Director, said that one reason for the high percentage of seniors could be attributed to the borough’s property tax exemption available to seniors.
While the state of Alaska has a mandatory minimum $150,000 property tax exemption for citizens aged 65 years and older, the borough has a $300,000 property tax exemption for seniors.
“I think that’s probably one of the main reasons that would impact (senior’s decision to live in the borough),” Eubank said.
Eubank said that another factor for the increase is the amount of programs and services for seniors.
“I think we have the infrastructure to provide the services that (senior citizens) require,” Eubank said.
Reach Ian Foley at Ian.firstname.lastname@example.org.