Oregon will have to collect revenue next year from a senior levy passed by voters last month to expand services at the James “Wes” Hancock senior center because the election results have been certified by the county.
“We have talked with the auditor’s office,” said Administrator Mike Beazley. “The city does not have a choice in choosing to collect that tax. The tax commission met for the county and certified it.”
He said city council could still decide to withhold the revenue from the 0.5-mill, five year levy in subsequent years.
“It’s something that this legislative authority in any future year can make a decision about and would have to make a presentation to the county budget commission. We are going to ensure that we’ll have complete transparency, accountability, reporting for any funds collected,” he said.
Some Oregon officials thought the city could reject the revenue after it was learned the chair of the levy campaign provided inaccurate information about the need for the levy in an effort to get it passed.
Bob Marquette, former chair of the Oregon Citizens Supporting Senior Services pro-levy group, and president of the senior center board, had appeared before council and the school board promoting the levy. He had claimed the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, Inc. and the city had cut funding to the center this year when in fact they had not. Funding from the AOoA and the city remained the same as last year. The center had received less from the AOoA in 2012 from 2011, partly because the center had underperformed in providing contracted services to seniors.
Voters were also unaware that Marquette and Bob Benton, a member of the senior board, had rejected the possibility of getting $250,000 from the AOoA to expand operations at the center. The AOoA, which collects revenue from a Lucas County Senior Services levy, made the offer because the city plans to spend $750,000 to expand the senior center building on Bay Shore Road next year. Instead, Marquette and Benton opted to get a local senior levy, which would bring in over $200,000 in annual revenue, on the November ballot.
The levy will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $17.50 in annual taxes.
Beazley said at a council meeting on Nov. 25 that he met with officials from the AOoA and the senior center and also discussed potential options with the YMCA of Greater Toledo to stem some of the fallout regarding the need for a local senior levy.
The city could withhold money from the senior center and allocate it to other local senior programs.
“It is important to emphasize that action of the voters earlier this month provided funding for an increase in senior services. It did not require that the city use those revenues to fund any particular organization, program, or center,” said Beazley.
He recommended the establishment of an oversight board to review which services to contract for and who is best positioned to provide the services.
“If it could be determined that future county wide levies passed through the AOoA could reliably fund such initiatives, the Oregon council always has the option not to collect a voted levy if a practical and appropriate alternative is available,” said Beazley.
“The standard we put forward would be to answer to every dollar we do collect, and see to it that it’s spent in a responsible manner,” said Mayor Mike Seferian.
Marquette, who was at the meeting, thanked council for their support. No one asked Marquette about why he rejected the $250,000 offer from the AOoA, nor why he said the city and county had cut funding to the center.
Councilman Dennis Walendzak said Marquette in the past few weeks had received “some press that was unwarranted.”
“Mr. Marquette has done a great amount of work for our community,” said Walendzak.
Councilman James Seaman said Marquette did not intend to give inaccurate information to the school board, city council, and the media and instead blamed it on a “communications deficit.”
“Sometimes the press calls me when I’m at home, and I don’t have all my paperwork. And it’s hard to give them information. It’s hard to respond accurately,” said Seaman. “The Area Office on Aging is a big bureaucracy, too. They have their communications problems. None of us are perfect. We have a lot of different governmental agencies trying to interact with each other. Sometimes the words get confused. I call it a communications deficit.”
Council President Tom Susor, whose term on council ended Dec. 1 after he lost the mayors race in November, said the community should be “celebrating and rejoicing” over the passage of the levy.
“This community needs to embrace this levy and we need to move forward in a positive manner. Every progressive community surrounding us has a senior levy, and a constant source of funding,” he said.
The Press checked surrounding counties, and only Sylvania has its own senior levy. All other communities rely on their county senior levies to fund their senior centers.
Doris Levy, a former board member of the center, told council she wanted the levy rescinded because it wasn’t needed. She also criticized Paula Benton, director of the center, for putting campaign signs in support of the levy on her lawn when she was told not to. Levy, who is 82, also said she was verbally “abused” by Benton for her opposition to the levy.
P.J. Kapfhammer, president of the Oregon school board, expressed concerns to council about voters who may not be so eager to pass an operating levy for the school district in the future after learning about the inaccurate information regarding the senior levy.
Councilwoman Sandy Bihn, who was also attending her last meeting on council, said council should have asked more questions before it voted in July to place the levy on the ballot.
“Perhaps we should have given the levy three readings when it was asked for,” said Bihn. “And maybe we could have fleshed through some of these things so that this never would have happened. That was our option. We didn’t take it. That was a mistake. It never occurred to me that the Area Office on Aging could have funded anything that was being asked for in this community at this time. It came out after. So that’s unfortunate.”