By Peter H. Milliken
The Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission has been spending more money on benefits and services to veterans and returning less money to the county’s general fund in recent years.
The commission’s executive director, Susan Krawchyk, estimated that, at the end of this year, the commission will return just $175,000 to $200,000 of its $2,028,754 budget to the general fund.
The amount the commission returned to the general fund was $768,593 in 2012; $453,632 in 2013; $299,037 in 2014; and just $173,306 last year.
The general fund is the county’s main operating fund.
“It’s a good thing sending back less money because we are helping more veterans and trying to get out into the community and letting them know that we are here and we’re here to help them,” said Krawchyk, who became commission executive director in March 2014.
The commission’s budget was $2,066,545 in 2012 and has hovered within $29,000 of the $2 million mark every year since then.
State law entitles the commission to five-tenths of a mill per dollar on the assessed value of county real estate, which totals nearly $4.1 billion.
The real-estate tax allocation is the Mahoning County VSC’s sole funding source.
Part of the increase in spending for veterans has come from the rise in relief payments to them, which totaled $471,163 in 2013; $473,006 in 2014; and $662,129 last year, Krawchyk said.
As of Dec. 2, that figure was $602,741.
The relief payments include temporary emergency assistance, winter utility assistance and county burial benefits.
In the past two years, awareness of commission benefits and services has been increased by an advertising campaign that included billboards bearing the slogan: “You served for us. Now we serve for you,” Krawchyk said.
“We’d never done advertising before,” she said.
The commission also hired Delmas Stubbs, an Army retiree, this year as its veterans outreach worker, Krawchyk noted.
In addition to the emergency and utility assistance and burial benefits, the commission staff helps veterans file pension and disability claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and provides daily transports for veterans to the department’s Cleveland medical center.
“Last year, we brought back $41 million to this community,” Krawchyk said, referring to pensions and disability claims successfully filed for veterans.
“We’re doing a lot more for vets,” said Tony Revetti, commission chairman.
“Some veterans are very shy. They don’t feel right about asking for stuff. That’s one of the problems. I think we’re getting past that because we’re reaching out to them,” Revetti said.
“There were so many veterans out there that really didn’t know we were here to assist them,” said James Dill, a commission member.
“We are also now involved in more community outreach programs to get our name out, but also to assist the veteran community in doing ceremonies and programs and activities that they are no longer capable of doing themselves because of an aging population and a reduced number of members in organizations,” commission member Roderick Hosler added.
Another spending item that contributed to less money being returned to the general fund was the commission’s purchase of a new vehicle for medical transportation, said Hosler, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, who headed the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Youngstown State University.
The county VSC is overseen by a five-member commission consisting entirely of veterans.
The commission has a full-time staff of 10 and three part-time drivers, who transport the veterans to medical facilities.
All staff are veterans or have family members who have served in the military.