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MAHONING VALLEY Agencies: Budget cuts will hurt communities



Published: Wed, July 3, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The cuts couldn't have come at a worse time for Columbiana County, a commissioner said.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Gov. Bob Taft's decision to make $375 million in state budget cuts means some Mahoning Valley residents who depend on public services will have to make do without them.

Taft's decision impacts programs for the elderly, those receiving public assistance, the mentally disabled, prisons, higher education and economic development. The Department of Aging, the Department of Development, and Jobs and Family Services saw their budgets reduced by 15 percent compared to last year.

It leaves Don Medd, executive director for District XI Area Agency on Aging -- which provides services to 93,400 seniors in Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Ashtabula counties -- in a difficult situation.

Deciding what to cut

When asked how his agency will decide what programs to cut, Medd said, "Do you want to pick between your children? There is no easy way to decide. It's not pleasant. It's a very difficult situation. This money cut is on top of the other cutbacks we've had to make during the budget crisis of the past two years. I don't know how you respond to 15 percent."

But Medd's agency is doing it.

The agency will eliminate $37,000 from its home-delivered meals program, which will result in the elimination of 151 clients.

Also, 100 people who depended on the agency for transportation to the doctor's office and other appointments will have to look elsewhere for a ride.

The agency also made cuts to a program that provides home repairs to seniors. Fourteen seniors were eliminated from the program.

Effect on community

The cuts will adversely affect the local community, Medd said. Seniors who now have to spend money on meals and transportation will be forced to cut back on other expenses, thus hurting local businesses and the economy, he said.

"There is a ripple effect on the community," he said.

Tom Mahoney, director of Trumbull County's Job and Family Services, said the latest cuts will affect the level of service his agency can provide, and if it continues, layoffs are a very real possibility in 2004.

"We just can't take these hits locally," he said. "They're cutting very-much-needed programs, and they're telling us that if we want to take care of it, we should put a levy up for a vote."

Mahoney said the state is trying to balance the budget on the backs of poor people.

"We don't have the money to make up what we will lose," he said. "I think we're in for some real tough times."

Sara Scudier, assistant director of Mahoning County's Job and Family Services, said she is not sure of the monetary impact of the cut, but it will affect the agency.

Won't be easier

"It isn't going to make life any easier," she said. "There will be a little belt-tightening. We'll have to keep the same services at a smaller cost."

The cuts could not have come at a worse time for Columbiana County, Commissioner David Cranmer said, because it is struggling with its own financial problems.

The county commissioners last week imposed a 0.5 percent sales tax for three years, and opponents are trying to block the collection of the money through a referendum vote. Without the sales tax, the county has encountered major financial problems, and the prospect of state budget cuts only makes the matter more challenging, Cranmer said.

"We have to buckle our seat belts in this next fiscal year because we're going to be slapped down some more," he said. "It will hurt us because we're on the edge right now. It looks like there's more pain ahead of us. We'll need another shot of penicillin."

skolnick@vindy.com




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