With some of the highest senior-citizen populations in New Jersey, counties such as Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean are grappling with funding budgets that are only expected to get larger as the population grows.

And with federal and state funds either remaining stable or shrinking, counties such as Cape May and Ocean — where seniors account for one out of every four year-round residents —  increasingly are dipping into their own budgets to maintain services.

For sheer size, Ocean County dwarfs its southern neighbors with 160,000 — or 27 percent — of the county’s 597,000 residents 60 or older, said Jane Maloney, director of Ocean County Senior Services. Not surprisingly, the county’s spending this year tops the region, with $7 million going to fund senior-related services.

Maloney said the county’s ratio of seniors to total residents is the highest in the state.

Coming in a close second is Cape May County, where 25,000 of the county’s 96,304 year-round residents are seniors.

Maloney attributed the size of the region’s senior population to the roughly 90 retirement communities, many developed in the past decade.

“Years ago people would retire to Florida, but now they’re not wanting to go as far away from their children. For people retiring from New York and North Jersey this area is popular because of its location in the middle of the state, and we have the shore,” she said.

Recent contracts for senior services in Ocean County include meal distribution, transportation, legal services, caregiver services, care management, benefits screening and chore services, said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari.

In Atlantic County, the senior citizen population has grown by 9 percent from 2000 to 2010. That’s less than  Ocean County’s 7 percent, but Ocean County still has many more seniors living there.

“We have about 44,000 seniors in Atlantic County, and in Ocean County senior population is almost 4 times what ours is,” Atlantic County Administrator Jerry DelRosso said.

Atlantic County expects to spend between $2.5 million and $3 million this year on services for senior citizens, DelRosso said. That’s consistent with what the county has had to spend in recent years, between federal, state and county sources, he said.

While funding has remained flat in recent years, Ocean County can see as much as $5 million in funding from federal, state and county governments, Maloney said. Each year Ocean County expects between $1.5 million and $2.2 million in funding through the Older Americans Act, Maloney said.

“This year Ocean County also received Sandy relief federal funding of more than $1.8 million that we are preparing to distribute,” Maloney said.

Atlantic County sees about $1.5 million in funding through the Older Americans Act, DelRosso said.

Congress passed the Older Americans Act in 1965 following concern from policymakers about a lack of community social services for senior citizens. In awarding funding, the federal formula focuses on specific senior populations, areas with low-income seniors and minority seniors older than 60, Groome said.

“In Cape May County, we have the population of seniors over age 60, but not the population of minorities or seniors in poverty,” she said.

Of a year-round population of just more than 96,000 people, about 25 percent is made up of senior citizens, Groome said.

Unfortunately, this year Cape May County lost about 5 percent of its funding through the Older Americans Act, she said.

“In our budget we are just shy of $2 million, and that includes federal, state and county funding all together. Last year our area plan had $1.9 million. We try to spend everything. If we have the money, we spend the money,” she said.

Cape May County offers some direct services, including mobile meals. Like Ocean and Atlantic counties, Cape May also establishes contracts for other services: care management, legal assistance, home health aid programs, a dental program, medication management, residential maintenance, adult protective services, mental health counseling, and in-home education and support.

DelRosso said Atlantic County will award several competitive contracts for senior programs this year, including homemaker services, care-giving assistance services through volunteers, a senior medical clinic, transportation, a nutrition project, outreach services and information referral services.

Vicari said the county’s programs provide great benefits for our seniors, “especially those that are the most frail and in need.”

“Not only is there nutritional value, but also social contact, which is so important for seniors that may be shut-ins,” Vicari said.

This year Ocean County also is participating in the Sandy Assistance Relief Program for Seniors and Disabled.

The program provides limited assistance to those individuals whose primary residence sustained damage during the storm for expenses not fully covered by insurance, the Fedeal Emergency Management Agency and other programs.

The program will be administered through the Ocean County Board of Social Services (OCBOSS). The Office of Senior Services is working with the OCBOSS to kick off the program in the near future. For more information, call the Ocean County Office of Senior Services, 732-929-2091, 877-222-3737.

Contact Donna Weaver:

609-226-9198

@DonnaKWeaver on Twitter