Oregon may decide not to collect revenue that will be generated by the recently passed senior levy after learning that inaccurate information may have been used in a campaign to get more funds for the James “Wes” Hancock Senior Center on Bay Shore Road.
Councilwoman Sandy Bihn said at a meeting on Monday that she was troubled by information that shows the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, Inc., (AOoA) did not cut funding to the senior center this year, as was claimed by Bob Marquette, president of the center.
“I think it is very sad that representations were made about the levy that do not appear to be correct,” said Bihn, a reference to an article that appeared in The Press on Nov. 4 that showed the AOoA did not cut funding to the senior center in 2013. According to figures released by the AOoA, funding for the center this year was $63,870.56, the same amount the center received in 2012. The amount was $74,240.42 in 2011, but dropped in subsequent years partly due to the center’s underperformance in providing contracted services to seniors. The center simply did not use all the funding allocated by the AOoA during those years.
It was also claimed in senior levy campaign literature that the center received less funds this year from the city, which was also inaccurate. The city allocated $47,715 to the center in 2013, the same amount as in 2012.
Bihn said she was puzzled by senior center officials’ desire for a levy to expand services at a time when the center was underperforming and not using all the funds allocated by the AOoA.
“To not use money because they didn’t have enough people using those services, then saying they need more services – I don’t get it. I just don’t get it,” she said.
Phil Walton, board chairman of the AOoA, stated in an Oct. 5 letter to Marquette, who also chaired the Oregon Citizens Supporting Senior Services pro-levy group, that he should use accurate funding information while campaigning for the levy.
“We continue to read inaccurate/misleading information about your budget cuts by the Area Office on Aging in news articles and campaign materials,” Walton states in the letter that was obtained by The Press. “If you insist on using this budget cut information in campaign materials and talking points, please use accurate funding information…to better educate the taxpayers.” The Hancock Senior Center’s funding, he added in bold letters, “was not reduced in 2013.”
Marquette did not return messages from The Press for comment.
Bihn also said she was disappointed to learn that senior center officials this summer had rejected the possibility of getting $250,000 from the AOoA next year to expand operations if they dropped plans for the 0.5-mill levy, which will bring in about $207,000 annually.
Bihn said she would have voted against putting the 0.5-mill levy on the ballot in July had she known about the agency’s proposal and the inaccurate information that was part of the levy campaign.
“I was part of making it happen and I feel responsible. I am saddened by what I have found out and very troubled,” said Bihn.
Senior programs, she added, face the possibility of funding cuts from the AOoA now that the city has its own levy. In addition, residents would be paying taxes twice for senior services if voters renew the Lucas County Senior Services Levy next year.
“If in fact that money could have been had from the Area Office on Aging…and we are already paying for a county senior levy through the Area Office on Aging, maybe we should not have had the levy. I think it is fair, and appropriate and responsible to ask these questions. How is the Area Office on Aging going to work with the levy here? Are we going to lose money and be doubled up? These questions should have been answered beforehand. If I had to make that vote again in July, it would not have happened on my part had I known what I know today. All of us have limited resources and the taxpayers of this community are no different. It is our responsibility to make sure those services are provided to the best extent possible with resources being used as widely as possible,” she said.
Bihn said she would like to see the 0.5-mill levy rescinded if the AOoA is able to earmark the $250,000 for the senior center next year.
She also asked for a financial and performance audit of the center.
“I feel every one of the sentiments, comments you made,” said Mayor Mike Seferian, who was re-elected to a second term on Nov. 5. “We did everything we could to try and keep that off the ballot. It is hard to put into words how that all transpired, but the last thing we wanted was for that to go on the ballot.”
After the meeting, Administrator Mike Beazley said council could simply vote against collecting the revenue generated by the levy as a way to “rescind” it.
“It’s ultimately up to city council to decide whether at some point in the future not to collect the tax,” he said.
Another option, he said, is for the city to set up strict rules and regulations that senior center officials must follow regarding the use of the revenue.
“There is an opportunity with the passage of this levy for this legislative body and this administration to ensure greater transparency and responsible control over those dollars,” he said.
Seferian told The Press he would prefer that council not collect the revenue.
“That would be more prudent to do. When council put it on the ballot, there was a lack of knowledge of the whole thing - maybe they didn’t know all the details that had taken place. That might be a better course of action,” said Seferian. “And it could be done year to year until we could see what happens in the future with funding from the Area Office on Aging.”