Oregon will be making a decision on whether to withhold revenue from the recently passed senior levy, have the levy rescinded, or use the money for the senior center during the city’s budget process this year.
“We’re going to be preparing the 2014 budget this year,” said Mayor Mike Seferian. “We’ll have to ask council for some direction, whether to collect the money or not collect the money. We have to have an answer and push a response out of them. We’re in the process of preparing the budget right now.”
Councilwoman Sandy Bihn had at the last council meeting on Nov. 11 requested financial and performance audits of the senior center after she learned that inaccurate information may have been used in a campaign to get the 0.5 mill levy passed on Nov. 7 for the James “Wes Hancock Senior Center on Bay Shore Road.
She had expressed concerns about an article that appeared in The Press on Nov. 6 in which figures provided by the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, Inc., (AOoA) showed funding was not cut to the senior center this year, as was claimed by Bob Marquette, president of the center.
|Dance partners Ethel Mull and Fritz Lau dance to the tunes
of Crimson Lights at St. Peter Lutheran Church Blackberry
Corners. The dance was held as a fundraiser for dementia.
(Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
Marquette, who also chaired the Oregon Citizens Supporting Senior Services pro-levy group, may have made claims before council, the school board, and media that the city and the AOoA had cut funding in an effort to gain support for the levy. Figures released by the Oregon Finance Department and the agency showed that the information was inaccurate and that funding had remained the same as in 2012. Phil Walton, board chairman of the AOoA, had also sent a letter to Marquette before the election stating he should use accurate funding information while campaigning for the levy. In fact, Walton stated that the senior center had not used all the funding the agency had allocated because it had been underperforming. There simply weren’t enough seniors using the center.
Oregon officials and the public were also unaware 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 levy, which will bring in about $207,000 annually. The funding the senior center receives from the AOoA is just a portion of what the agency spends on senior services in Oregon. 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.
AOoA officials told The Press that passage of the Oregon senior levy does not necessarily mean funding from the agency will now be scaled back. However, they said future funding will be based on need.
In addition to the audits, Bihn had requested information on how to rescind the levy as well as the following information:
• The number of senior center employees, titles, wages and benefits paid, the projected number of employees, titles and benefits to be paid.
• A five year budget for the senior services levy, including the number of seniors served.
• Determination of items in the five year budget that would be eligible for funding from the AOoA.
• Determination if because of the Oregon levy, funding from the AOoA to the senior center will be reduced.
Bihn spoke at the end of the meeting, but no one on council commented on the matter.
The Press contacted members of council after the meeting for comment. Nobody supported rescinding the levy.
Seferian said the controversy may make it more difficult for the city to seek voters’ support for future levies if the matter is not fixed by council.
“People are mad. They weren’t given the proper information to make an informed decision on whether they wanted the senior levy,” he said. “Give people another chance to vote. This is council’s chance to make it right. Here’s their way out of this mess.”
Marquette has not returned calls to The Press for comment.