By EMMALEE C. TORISK
When Campbell discontinued its busing program for the elderly, 92-year-old Rose Scarfo felt as though she’d also been stripped of her independence.
“No senior citizen should be left without any transportation,” said Scarfo, a city resident who depended on the bus’s weekly trips to destinations such as the grocery store and the pharmacy. “A lot of them cannot get out of the house [otherwise]. They have no family or no one around for them. It’s a shame.”
Since the bus stopped running midway through the year, Scarfo has been persistent, routinely attending council meetings in an effort to get the city to reinstate the program. She and other senior citizens also have sent letters “all over,” to companies and to individuals, asking for donations that would put the city’s bus back on the road.
But city officials say that repairing the old bus, or even purchasing a new one, isn’t the issue.
The problem is funding the program itself, said George Levendis, council president. The city can afford to shell out approximately $2,500 to make its current bus “road worthy” once again. The city also can likely allocate enough money to fund an entirely new bus dedicated solely to the elderly busing program.
It can’t, however, afford those costs in addition to insurance, routine bus maintenance and a bus driver’s salary, among other expenses, particularly when the city only recently emerged from the state’s oversight, Levendis said.
“How are we going to fund the bus for the long term?” Levendis said. “We are running the city at the bare minimum, and we don’t want to get back into the same predicament that put us into fiscal emergency.”
He added that restarting and operating the elderly busing program would cost the city anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000 per year, but noted, too, that the program had long required deficit spending.
Previously, the Area Agency on Aging 11 Inc., which is part of the Ohio Department of Aging, partially funded the costs associated with running and maintaining the city’s elderly busing program, while the difference was cobbled together mostly from a handful of donations.
And though the city did have to contribute monies from its general fund to ensure that the program was fully functional, the program itself “was really, really close to running in the black,” Levendis said.
In recent years, however, both the grants and the donations dwindled into nonexistence, and the city was forced to subsidize much of the program on its own, which it did until another viable transportation option for senior citizens was identified.
For the time being, one such option for senior citizens is busing through the Western Reserve Transit Authority, Levendis said. Both he and Campbell Mayor William VanSuch said the bus fare for senior citizens, which includes pickup at their homes and transport to anywhere in Mahoning County, is $2.50 each way.
This cost could be prohibitive for many, however. Levendis said the city still is “trying and trying” to come up with a better solution, and that it fully understands senior citizens’ need for a bus.
“We’re not turning a blind eye,” Levendis said. “But unless someone wants to step up to the plate and fund this, we can’t.”
VanSuch said, too, that he’s open to suggestions for transportation options, especially after the city didn’t qualify to even apply for a new bus through the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Specialized Transportation Program.
The village of Lowellville is one of only three entities in Mahoning County that will receive 80 percent of the funding for a new bus through the program, and both Campbell and Struthers — whose request was denied — already have inquired about the possibility of purchasing Lowellville’s old bus.
In all, Scarfo said she’s sure the city can do something, such as pursue additional grants or donations, to restore the senior-busing program.
“We need it,” she said. “Lowellville has it. Struthers has it. This is one thing Campbell can do for its senior citizens.”