By Peter H. Milliken
Advocates for a new 1-mill, five-year Mahoning County senior-citizen services real-estate tax levy said older people can look forward to a quality-of-life improvement if the levy passes.
The advocates spoke at a Tuesday panel discussion on the proposed levy at First Presbyterian Church on Wick Avenue.
The administrative director of an inter-generational community center in Girard made an impassioned plea for county voters to take care of their own by passing the levy March 15.
“Our older family members, our friends, our neighbors, who built this community – they deserve to age independently in their own homes for as long as possible,” said Laura Carey, administrative director of the Girard Multigenerational Center.
The center, whose primary focus is on senior-citizen services and activities, is in a former school building and is funded by Trumbull Countywide and Girard senior levies.
“We know that our federal and state resources are severely limited,” Carey told the levy forum, which was sponsored by the Youngstown State University Emerging Scholars and Professionals in Gerontology.
“Taking care of our seniors has become a community effort across the state,” she said. “Here, in the Mahoning Valley, we have always had a tradition of taking care of our own. That senior levy is going to keep that tradition alive in the Mahoning Valley.”
“Our goal is to help people remain in their homes where they want to be,” said Joseph Rossi, chief executive officer of the Niles-based Area Agency on Aging 11.
“This is an opportunity for us to be more thoughtful and more concerned for people who need help, who just simply cannot get it; and at very little cost to the members of our community, we can provide that,” said Harry Meshel, 91, of Youngstown, a former Ohio state senator.
The proposed levy would generate about $4.1 million annually. The county commissioners placed the issue on the primary ballot.
The measure would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $36 a year. That amounts to a dime a day, Rossi told the audience.
It would pay for a variety of services to people age 60 and older, including adult day care, chore services, home repair and maintenance, homemaker, protective and personal-care services, medication management, guardianships and home-delivered and congregate meals.
If it passes, collections of revenue from it would start with the first-half tax bills in 2017. Services funded by it likely would start in mid-2017, Rossi said.
Currently, about $900,000 in federal money and $300,000 in state money annually pays for senior services in the county.
With the extra $4.1 million a year from the proposed countywide levy, waiting lists for senior services, now totaling nearly 1,000 people in the county, likely would be eliminated, Rossi said.
Some 27 percent of Mahoning’s population of 229,484 is older than 60, according to the Scripps Gerontology Center, which projects that percentage will increase to 34 percent of a total county population that will have declined to 201,097 in 2030.
Senior levies in adjoining counties are 0.75-mill in Trumbull County and 0.50-mill in Columbiana County. Ashtabula County has a 1-mill senior levy.
Seventy-three of Ohio’s 88 counties have a senior-services levy.
The Area Agency’s administration and oversight fee won’t exceed 5 percent of levy collections and could be considerably less than that if the agency can house administrative staff in space Mahoning County already rents or owns, Rossi said.
Audrey Tillis, county budget director, said the county is considering housing that staff in the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place.
Tillis said senior levy money would be kept separate from the county’s general fund.