Citizens meet to discuss senior services levy

Kurt Jakub

About 40 residents of Portage County met Saturday morning at Kent Roosevelt High School to hold an open forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters on Issue 7, the senior services levy.

Issue 7 is a 2-mill levy which will generate $6.7 million annually for five years if it passes on the May 8 ballot. The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $70 a year in property taxes.

There are four components to the levy: care coordination of community-based long term care for senior citizens (82 percent); adult protective services (3 percent); a senior center (8 percent); and a community health center (7 percent).

Joe Ruby, president and CEO of the Area Agency on Aging, said the community-based long-term care may include home delivered meals, personal care, safety monitoring, adult day care and other forms of care for senior citizens.

Ruby also said Portage County may not be the only nearby county to impose a senior citizen levy.

“We (AAA) are actively setting up levies for Summit, Wayne and Stark counties,” Ruby said. “I don’t know when these issues will be placed on a ballot, but hopefully it will be soon.”

Members of the audience had many questions about Issue 7.

Dave Vanderneut, head of Concerned Seniors of Portage County, said he has some doubts about the levy.

“Some of the people 60-plus need some of these services, but not all of them,” Vanderneut said. “There are needs in this county for seniors, but why would Portage County end up with the highest millage of any county with a senior levy?”

Vanderneut said he feels $6.7 million is too much. He said he would have no hesitation voting for a .25-mill levy.

Another senior in the audience said there has been too much increase in property taxes lately.

“In 16 years of living here, my property taxes have gone up dramatically,” he said. “We’ve been generous with school levies, and we paid for a Taj Mahal-like library. If there are any more property taxes I won’t be able to afford to live in my house anymore.”

Leigh Herington, co-chair of the Issue 7 Senior Levy, said the group modeled the levy by reviewing the senior levies adopted by 68 other counties in Ohio. He said the moneys allocated would be monitored by a volunteer board made up of health care professionals, business professionals and other adults.

Sally Kelly, director of the Portage County Senior Center, said the levy would help keep many senior citizens in their own homes and out of nursing homes, which, in turn, will help alleviate some taxes.

“It costs $4,000 to $5,000 a month to keep someone on Medicaid in a nursing home,” Kelley said. “That money comes from our pockets. With this levy we could help cut the number of people in nursing homes (in Portage County) in half.”

Steve Collechi, CEO of Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna and chairman of the board for AAA, said the community health center will receive 7 percent of the $6.7 million for operating costs. It is still unknown whether the center will be renovated from an existing building or constructed from scratch. Money from the levy would not pay for the health center’s construction or renovation, he said.

Collechi said the construction or renovation would be paid for by federal and state funds, as well as donations. He said a $1 million donation arrived from an anonymous source.

Contact public affairs reporter Kurt Jakub at [email protected].