Senior Services Levy on May 6 Ballot

Jefferson County commissioners lsat week 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.

The levy is needed to accommodate the growing population of seniors in the county, Owings said. 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. She added no new staff have been added since the levy first was approved.

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, Owings said.

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.

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.