County Mulls Senior Center

Belmont County commissioners have set aside $2 million to build or improve senior centers in the county, and now they wonder if building one centralized facility is the best way to spend the money.

The issue was discussed at Wednesday’s commission meeting.

“Before I make a decision about doing anything, operational cost is the most important thing to me,” said Commission President Matt Coffland. “Our senior service makes up about 10 percent of the total population we serve. … We are meeting next week (with Belmont Senior Services Coordinator David Hacker) to see what it will cost. We know what it cost in the past, and we’ve got to see where the future takes us.”

Belmont County takes in about $3 million annually through its three senior citizen levies, according to Coffland. Some residents have questioned whether one of the levies could be eliminated.

“I know we’ve got $2 million set aside for buildings, but if we continue to eat into the savings to cover cost operations – that scares me.” Coffland said. “I can tell you right now, from what I’m seeing, we can’t cut a levy.”

Commissioner Ginny Favede said the county’s 10 senior centers collectively cost taxpayers about $750,000 annually to operate.

One option currently being considered by commissioners is to turn the former Habilitation Center off Hammond Road in St. Clairsville into a senior center. Belmont Senior Services is in need of a facility already, and the Hab Center has an operational kitchen “that could be brought up to standards fairly quickly,” according to Favede.

She said Hacker has suggested renovations at The Hab Center be done incrementally, expanding the offices and services provided in the building and eventually working toward the development of a county-wide senior center.

“Over time, they would hold events there so that seniors would want a county-wide senior center,” Favede said. “We would be shutting down their local senior center, and the fear is that in that we would be displacing them. … The idea is to let them migrate there.”

Commissioners are also discussing the idea of building a new senior facility in Flushing, “or doing something different,” Commissioner Mark Thomas said.

“We have to make sure we have some new kitchen facilities ready for the entire county,” he said. “Ultimately, this is a county-wide issue, and it’s not just about Flushing or Martins Ferry.”

In other matters, the closing of Belmont County offices on Tuesday due to extreme cold temperatures has caused some rescheduling of deadlines in the county.

Commissioners were scheduled Wednesday to open bids for homemaker and personal care services for Senior Services of Belmont County, but the bid opening was extended one week until 10 a.m. Feb. 5.

County Auditor Andrew Sutak also extended the deadline for county residents to obtain dog licenses, giving canine owners until Feb. 4 to purchase licenses.