Oregon Mayor Mike Seferian and Councilman Terry Reeves, chairman of Oregon’s Recreation and Parks Committee, last summer told the president of the James “Wes” Hancock Senior Center that accurate information on a proposed 0.5-mill senior services levy should be provided to voters to increase chances of getting it passed.
Seferian and Reeves told Bob Marquette, president of the center, that voters don’t like to be “duped.”
The committee met on July 22 and recommended to council, which met that evening, to place the levy on the Nov. 5 ballot. The levy was passed. But some felt betrayed after it was learned Marquette may have provided inaccurate information about the need for the levy in an effort to get it passed.
Marquette, as chair of the Oregon Citizens Supporting Senior Services pro-levy group, had appeared before council and the school board after the committee meeting to promote the levy. He had claimed the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, Inc. (AOoA) and the city cut funding to the center last year when in fact they had not. Funding from the AOoA and the city remained the same in 2013 as in 2012. The center had received less from the AOoA in 2012 compared to 2011 partly because the center had underperformed in providing contracted services to seniors.
Voters had also been unaware that Marquette and Bob Benton, director of the senior board, earlier last year 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 this year. Instead, Marquette and Benton opted for a local senior levy, which would bring in over $200,000 in annual revenue, on the November ballot, according to city and county officials.
Marquette said at the committee meeting that the levy was needed “to maintain the financial stability for the services rendered for the senior community.”
But Seferian said voters would first want to know how the center planned to use the revenue before they supported a levy.
“We’re very cautions when we want to add taxes to the base for anyone in the city,” said Seferian, who was opposed to the levy. “We were recently blessed with some tax revenues. We could make real handsome contributions to the senior center in terms of operations.”
Seferian said it would be a battle to get the levy passed and that voters should receive accurate information to help them decide whether or not to back it.
“No one wants to be duped,” said Seferian. “No one even wants to think that their tax dollars are going to be spent frivolously. The key thing on the part of whatever committee puts this together is having accurate information, and a lot of it.”
“Absolutely,” said Marquette, who went on to say that the AOoA had cut the center’s funding by $16,000, which was inaccurate. The center had received less money in 2012 and 2013 than in 2011, but mostly because it had not used all the funding allocated by the agency.
The city has also contributed $47,715 to the center since 2011.
Marquette told the committee that the center has had to rely on fundraisers to help pay for employees’ salaries.
“The funding we receive from the AOoA and the city does not cover the costs of operating, let alone the costs of personnel and wages. We must have fundraisers to meet those ends,” said Marquette. Senior center director Paula Benton, he added, couldn’t make payroll without the fundraisers.
“It happens constantly throughout the year. And when we got hit with the loss of those funds, where do you make up $16,000? You just don’t. We have to have these fundraisers,” he said.
Justin Moor, vice president of planning and program development at the AOoA, told The Press last week that the agency has a purchase of service contract with the senior center based on services it expects to provide to seniors. The AOoA reimburses the center for those services.
“We do not provide lump sum grants to cover salaries,” he said. The senior center submits a budget, which includes a breakdown of how much funding will go towards salaries associated with providing the services to seniors, he added. Usually, the director of the center submits the budget to the AOoA.
Moor said he does not know why Marquette said the center does not have enough funding from the AOoA and the city to cover operating expenses and payroll.
“I think that would be a question best answered by the senior center because they’re the ones who put together the budget they submit to us,” he said.
Marquette and Benton did not return messages from The Press for comment.