Senior services levy to be on?May 6 ballot

STEUBENVILLE – Jefferson County commissioners on Thursday agreed to place a renewal of a levy and an increase on the May 6 primary election to fund operation of senior services in the county.

Judy Owings, Prime Time Office on Aging director, said increasing food and fuel costs have resulted in a 200-person waiting list for meals. Other services have been cut over the past couple years so the agency can focus on meals and transportation, the core services, Owings said.

The levy will include a renewal of the current 1 mill plus an additional 0.2 mill.

The 1-mill levy generates about $1 million a year. The additional amount will bring in another $200,000.

Owings said the current 1-mill levy costs the owner of a $50,000 home $4.20 a month. The increase would result in a monthly cost of $5, an increase of $9.60 a year.

Owings said the levy is needed to accommodate the growing population of seniors in the county. She said the percentage of residents age 60 and older in the county is expected to reach 30 percent of the county population by 2020. She said there is a need to help seniors stay in their homes to help families struggling to provide care and assistance to older loved ones. Owings said the unemployment rate in the county is higher, making it even more difficult for families to provide care to older family members.

Owings said fuel prices have doubled in the past decade, and food items in the meals program have seen increases of 50 percent to 100 percent over the past 10 years.

If the additional levy amount is not approved, Owings said the meals program would be scaled back to four days a week and the transportation program also would see decreased hours.

County Commissioner Tom Gentile asked Owings about cost-cutting measures, and she said there has been no new staffing since the levy first was approved.

County Commissioner Thomas Graham said he wants the voters to know the levy has nothing to do with the county commissioners because Prime Time is a stand-alone agency.

Owings added the senior services levy has nothing to do with the new senior center opened on Lovers Lane by Tri-State Health Services, the parent organization of Prime Time.

In other matters, commissioners heard from Beth Rupert-Warren, United Way of Jefferson County executive director, about providing funding for the operation of the 211 phone referral system.

Residents can call 211 at any time for referrals to nonprofit social service agencies for help on such matters as getting food, shelter, clothing, rent/utility assistance, foreclosure help and job assistance. The call will be answered by a trained specialist who will connect the caller with the appropriate agency. The calls will be answered by the United Way of Greater Stark County.

Rupert-Warren asked the commissioners to pay about $5,000 of the $22,000 annual operating cost. Commissioners provided $10,000 of the $40,000 last year to get the system operational.

County Commissioner David Maple said the board had an understanding the $40,000 would be all that was needed.

“The original plan was help in getting it off the ground rather than an ongoing cost,” he said.

Rupert-Warren said there are numerous other counties in the state that provide ongoing operational support for 211 phone referral systems.

She said the Jefferson County Developmental Disabilities Board has given $5,000 to help with a marketing campaign to increase awareness of the system.

“It takes about three years for people to know it is there,” she said.

Graham said the commissioners are currently in the process of preparing the 2104 budget. He said the commissioners have to cut a significant amount of money from budget requests from county departments.

“I will seriously wrestle with this and will think about it strongly,” Graham said of the 211 funding request.

Commissioners also agreed to advertise for aggregates and paving of the runway extension project at the county airport, but the bids won’t be advertised until the project’s engineer finishes bid specifications and a cost estimate.

The county received $150,000 in state grants for the project, which must be finished by May 31. The commissioners agreed to provide an additional $500,000 in funding.

Commissioners expressed concern about work done on the project by the engineering firm of Michael Baker Jr. Inc. The original bids were rejected because of costs exceeding the engineer’s estimate. Maple said the engineering firm should pay for the cost of the second set of bid documents because of the error in the bid estimate.

Commissioners also awarded a contract to Five D Enterprises for lighting work on the runway at a cost of $173,709.

Commissioners also:

Agreed to a 25 percent weight reduction on Saline Township and various county roads during the frost-thaw season of Feb. 1 through April 30 to reduce damage to roads.

Agreed to advertise on behalf of the county engineer’s department for bituminous and asphalt products for the summer construction season.

Were informed Kathryn Whinnery, the 2013 Jefferson County Fair queen, was selected as the 2014 Ohio Fairs Queen in Columbus over the weekend. Debbie Hukill of the county fair board said Whinnery will take part in county fairs throughout the state this year representing Jefferson County. Whinnery is the daughter of Robert and Vickie Whinnery of Adena.