Officials from the James “Wes” Hancock Senior Center in Oregon rejected the possibility of getting $250,000 from the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, Inc., (AOoA) to expand operations. Instead, they opted to get the center’s own levy on the ballot on Tuesday.
Oregon City Administrator Mike Beazley met with Billie Johnson, president and CEO of the AOoA earlier this year to discuss the possibility of getting funding from the agency for expanded operations at the center. Oregon was planning to spend $750,000 to expand the senior facility on Bayshore Road, but would not be providing funds for enhanced services
Johnson told Beazley she would ask the Lucas County Citizens Levy Review Committee, whose members are appointed by the Lucas County Commissioners, to earmark $250,000 for operations at the senior center if voters renewed the Lucas County Senior Services levy next year. The committee reviews the AOoA’s proposed use of levy funding.
“I have to take my whole budget to a levy review committee,” Johnson explained to The Press. “There’s a lot of hoops you have to jump through, but we were willing to do that because if the city was going to come up with close to $1 million for the senior center, the least we could do was use some of the levy resources that the citizens have passed to help operate the facility.”
Her proposal, though, was shot down by Bob Marquette, president of the senior center, and Bob Benton, a director of the board, according to Beazley. Instead, they asked Oregon City Council to put a 0.5-mill, five year operating levy on the Nov. 5 ballot, which council approved. If passed, the levy would bring in $207,000 in annual revenue for the center.
Marquette, who also chairs the Oregon Citizens Supporting Senior Services pro-levy group, said the senior center needs its own levy because the AOoA is providing fewer funds to support current programs the center offers, such as Bingo, Euchre, Mahjong, Wii bowling, exercise fitness, line dancing, Bunco, body sculpting, commodities, belly dancing, rides to and from medical appointments and shopping.
“Members also want computer classes and access to getting a GED,” he said. “We would like to bring in people to learn about Obamacare. We would like to have a computer lab, so we would need computers. If members have a question about pharmaceutical services, maybe they would be able to speak to a pharmacist, or even speak to a lawyer.”
There are also fewer dollars, according to Marquette, left to pay the center’s full-time executive director, Paula Benton, as well as a part-time secretary/assistant, a part-time maintenance employee, and two part-time drivers. One of the part-time drivers is Paula’s husband, Bob Benton.
Marquette said Paula Benton has received a 3 percent raise in salary in the eight years she’s been executive director. Marquette would not disclose Paula’s salary, nor would Paula when asked by a reporter from The Press, though she is paid with public funds. Paula refused to comment further about this story.
The Press obtained a copy of the 990 non-profit tax return filed by the center with the IRS in 2011, the most recent report available. It notes Paula’s annual compensation is $39,462.
The tax return also notes salaries, other compensation, and employee benefits totaled $89,751, though there was no breakdown in the allocation per employee.
The center’s total revenue was $128,772 and expenses $137,756 in 2011, according to the tax return. The center had cash, savings and investments of $80,505 at the end of the year.
Some of the revenue from the senior levy would go toward salary raises for Paula and the other employees at the center, said Marquette.
It would also go toward hiring a full-time administrative assistant.
Other plans for the revenue include buying a new van to replace an older van that has over 200,000 miles on it, said Marquette.
According to figures released by the AOoA, funding for the senior center has indeed been reduced. In 2009 and 2010, the AOoA allocated $72,243.88 to the senior center. In 2011, funding increased to $74,240.42. In 2012 and 2013, the amount dropped to $63,870.56.
But the AOoA said the center received fewer dollars partly due to its “underperformance,” in providing contracted services to seniors in 2010 and 2011. The center simply did not use all the funding allocated by the AOoA during those years.
“In 2010, the senior center did not use about 5 percent of its award or $3,914.64,” Phil Walton, board chairman of the AOoA states in an Oct. 5 letter to Marquette. “In 2011, the center did not use about 10 percent of its award, or $7,452.59.” For 2012, the senior center’s award was $2,917.27 less than the amount that was used in 2011, he added.
The senior center also gets funds from the city, which also dropped slightly since 2009, according to figures released by Oregon Finance Director Kathy Hufford. The center received $48,500 in 2009 and 2010; and $47,715 in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The reductions are due to savings in utilities. The city has consistently provided $31,000 in each of the last five years to the center for miscellaneous costs.
The amount the city budgets for senior center expenses and programs is decided during the budget process, according to Hufford. The city administration recommends an amount that is reviewed during annual budget hearings attended by council before it goes to council for approval.
The senior center submits invoices to the city with receipts attached requesting reimbursement for expenses.
The city also budgets $25,500 annually for senior programs at the YMCA.
Marquette acknowledged the center has underperformed, but gave reasons ranging from lower attendance due to poor weather to the closing of the center on election days because it is a polling place.
Johnson said other senior centers provide out-of-center services to make up for underperforming in other areas.
“They are providing other programs and services that are needed. You have to get creative,” said Johnson. “That’s why we have directors, to come up with those other services and programs that are needed in a community. You can change your budget. You can say, `We’ve closed the center down, but we need more transportation to get people to the doctor, hospital or to get therapy. So I want to reprogram my supportive dollars to transportation.’ We approve those.”
The funding the senior center receives from the AOoA is just a portion of what the agency spends on senior services in Oregon. For example, in 2012, the AOoA spent a total of $309,279.12 on Oregon seniors with revenue from the Lucas County Senior Services levy, block grants and Older Americans Act funding, according to Justin Moor, vice president of planning and program development at AOoA.
Johnson said the agency’s budgets have grown, mostly due to Medicaid and Passport programs.
“Those services are growing because the older population is becoming more frail and needing home care services versus being able to come to a senior center or to a nutrition site,” she said.
5 year budget
On Sept. 26, Karen McConnell, a member of the senior center board, met with the AOoA’s board to discuss the Oregon Senior Services levy and asked for the agency’s support.
The AOoA sent a letter to Marquette requesting a five year budget, but there was no response, according to Moor.
“We requested a budget detailing how these funds would be spent and, to date, we have not received this information,” said Moor. “The Area Office on Aging doesn’t know whether the amount of the Oregon senior levy funding would be used for administration, operations, services or programs.”
Marquette said he would not comment on why he has not responded to the AOoA’s request to submit a five year budget.
The AOoA also had other concerns. Among them: The timing of the Oregon levy, one year before voters would consider a renewal of the Lucas County Senior Services levy, according to the minutes of the Sept. 26 AOoA board meeting.
If Oregon votes for its own senior levy, would they also renew the county levy, and pay twice for services?
“If the Oregon Senior Services levy passes, an Oregon resident would be paying for both the Lucas County Senior Services levy and the Oregon Senior Services levy,” Moor said to The Press.
And that could jeopardize funding for seniors throughout the county.
“It puts at risk so many other seniors throughout Lucas County,” said Johnson. “They really must think these things out. If you’re going to go for a levy, then you really need to tell people what you’re going to spend it for,” she added, a reference to the senior center not providing a five year budget to the agency.
If passed, the Oregon senior levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $17.50 annually.