Senior levy will appear on May ballots

Brianne Carlon


enior citizens play cards in the senior center at the Portage County Administration building in Ravenna. They are among the many senior citizens attempting to get a levy on the May ballot to raise money for senior ser

Credit: Adam Griffiths

It may be a while before students have to start worrying about nursing homes and bedpans, but Portage residents must decide now how they will support their seniors.

On May 8, Portage County citizens will have the chance to vote on a levy that will bring in $6.7 million dollars to support county seniors. The county’s goal is to help keep senior citizens in their homes instead of being placed in nursing homes.

If passed, the property tax will be approximately 20 cents for each $100 of property value, according to the Portage County Board of Commissioners.

This equals $63 per $100,000 of home value, said Sally Kelly, director of Portage County Senior Services.

Who is paying?

Anyone who owns property in Portage County will be expected to pay this tax, including seniors on fixed incomes, said Leigh Herington, co-chairperson for the campaign committee for Citizen’s for Portage County Seniors and Ohio State Senator from 1995 to 2003.

Kelly said even students who rent in Portage County will in some way be paying the tax.

“(Apartment owners) depending on the value of their property, are going to be paying something more towards taxes,” she said. This means it will be passed onto students through rent increase.

Where will the money go?

Herington said the levy will assist seniors of Portage County in four ways:

• 82 percent: Care Coordination Program, which provides services to help seniors live on their own, including home-delivered meals, personal-care services such as helping them bathe and home services, such as helping with laundry or home repairs and adult-day care.

• 3 percent: Protective Services for adults who may be victims of abuse, exploitation and neglect.

• 7 percent: Building and operating a community health center for individuals in Portage County aged 60 and older who have no medical insurance or low incomes.

• 8 percent: Senior Center facilities to provide information and referral services so seniors know where to get the help they need if they need it.

Who will benefit?

The levy money will be used to assist Portage County seniors who are 60 years old and older who are not eligible for Medicaid programs.

“I think it is really important that we find a way to serve this group of people of modest means,” said Joe Ruby, President and CEO of Area Agency on Aging 10B Inc. “Most of these people worked all their lives and they paid taxes and they saved and have health issues then pretty soon they don’t have any money and they don’t qualify for the Medicaid program. It’s a really bad situation.”

The Medicaid PASSPORT program has strict financial requirements, and many seniors are not eligible for this program.

What are the numbers?

There have always been seniors to care for, but with baby boomers reaching 60, the numbers are expected to increase dramatically, according to Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University.

• 22,396 individuals in Portage County are 60 and older.

• By 2020, there will be 38,000 individuals 60 and older in Portage County, which is a 70 percent increase.

• Nearly one-third of individuals age 60 and older have at least one disability.

• By 2010, 17,760 individuals age 60 and older in Portage County will have some level of disability.

• About 25 percent of 65+ individuals in Portage County live alone.

• Over 8 percent of the age 60+ population live in poverty.

– Information from Profile and Projections of the 60+ population produced by Scripps Gerontology Center.

If a person’s income is greater than $1,809 per month and assets, such as a house or car, are greater than $1,500, they are not eligible for the PASSPORT program, according to the Services for Aging Web site.

Kelly said there is a large group of people who need help in Portage County.

“There is a whole chunk of people who are far from rich, but who in one illness can be completely wiped out,” she said.

Seniors who rent in high rise senior centers, who are HUD qualified, will be eligible to receive Care Coordination even though they will not have to pay the proposed property taxes, Ruby said. HUD qualified means residents receive help with living expenses from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“They would be highly likely to qualify for what we are providing,” he said. These services include services that help keep seniors healthy, such as homemaking and personal care, providing an emergency response system and offering training on age-related topics.

Even individuals who already have Medicare, state teacher retirement or public employee retirement could potentially qualify for help from levy moneys, Ruby said.

“These programs (such as state and teacher retirement) do not cover long-term care costs,” he said. The proposed levy focuses on long-term care of persons living in their own homes, not in nursing homes.

What is the plan?

Butler County in Ohio is being used as a model for operation of the levy money, Ruby said. The county has three senior centers for its 47,500 individuals age 60 and over. By 2020, Butler County will have 83,000 individuals age 60 and over, which is a 74 percent increase.

The Butler County senior services levy generates about $14.8 million dollars per year, Ruby said. It is used to fund Elderly Services Program, which is exactly the same as Care Coordination, he said.

“We are asking Portage County to establish an advisory board,” he said. The commissioners would appoint the members of this board. The board will approve expenditures and use the resources of the Area Agency on Aging.

Ruby said the process will most likely be: The Area Agency on Aging will make the proposal on an annual basis on how the money would be spent. The board would approve it. Then on a periodic basis, the board would meet to review the status, the progress and any tweaking that needs done, he said.

Lorri Munafo, activity supervisor at Senior Citizens Inc. in Butler County, said the senior centers and senior services are extremely important in the county.

“We, for so many people, are their social center, we’re their family, we’re their noon-time meal,” she said. “We for a lot of folks have become their connection to the world.

“We don’t want anybody to feel that just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you don’t still have something to contribute. It doesn’t mean that you can’t still learn something new or participate in things that you have always enjoyed,” she said.

What is the debate about?

Many issues have been brought up concerning the senior levy.

“Seniors don’t want to pay anything in addition on their taxes,” Kelly said.

However, seniors will get their money’s worth, she said.

“If you want home delivered meals, basically you are looking at $5 a day to have a warm meal brought to your home,” she said. “In three weeks you have $60 worth of home-delivered meals. So in less than a month you will have used services that are equivalent to the $63 you paid in tax.”

Debra Radecky, director of Medina County Office for Older Adults and Kent resident, said the money should be controlled by the county, not by the Area Agency on Aging, which is based in Stark County.

“We (Portage County residents) don’t need the area agency to tell us what to do. We know what we need to do with our money to take care of our seniors,” she said. “And I think the money should be handled by the county, otherwise, they (area agency) control the money, and they tell us what to do. We have to go through them to get anything done.”

Ruby said the agency, which is a non-profit that covers Portage, Stark, Summit and Wayne counties, is best suited for the job.

“I think why the commissioners would look to us particularly because that is what we do,” he said. “We also have a large provider network (130 providers) that unless you were doing what we do, you wouldn’t have that network.”

Radecky also thinks the medical center should not be included on this levy because anyone who is uninsured in the area could go there.

“It’s not a senior levy, it is a human-services levy and they should call it that because that’s what it is,” she said.

Herington said only 20 percent of community health center will be funded by the levy.

“There are other sources of revenue that are going to be used for the community health center,” he said. “We expect that over 20 percent of the people who will be served will be seniors.

“In total, Robinson Memorial Hospital gives about $20 million in care that does not get compensated for,” he said. Many people visit the ER after they are diagnosed as chronically ill or have ignored a problem, Herington said.

“When you have a community health center, what you’re doing is giving them an opportunity to go to community health center early,” he said. This can eliminate treatments that would not have been necessary if they were caught earlier, he added.

However, this would keep Robinson from having to cover the multi-million dollar bill for the uninsured, Herington said. Although the hospital plans to donate to the community health center, the difference in funds the hospital will keep is considerable.

The debate is intensified by the fact that the Area Agency on Aging Board President, Steve Colecchi, is also the president of Robinson.

“Anyone who believes that the Portage County Community Health Center or the Senior Services Levy is intended to solely benefit Robinson Memorial Hospital is misinformed,” Colecchi said. “There is an undisputed community need that requires a community solution. Robinson Memorial Hospital, NEOUCOM and the Portage County Commissioners have taken the initiative to assist in the development of the Portage County Community Health Center to help meet that need.” Colecchi also emphasized the new health center will be set up as a not-for-profit corporation.

With about three-fourths of the counties in Ohio already having property taxes for seniors in place, Kelly said it is Portage County’s turn.

“Portage County is a little bit behind and maybe it’s time Portage County steps up to the plate and assumes some responsibility,” she said.

Contact public affairs reporter Brianne Carlon at [email protected].