STEUBENVILLE - A proposed levy for operations for the Prime Time Office on Aging was discussed during Thursday's Jefferson County commissioners' meeting.
In a letter to commissioners, Judy Owings, director of Prime Time Services, asked commissioners to support a resolution for a proposed renewal levy for Prime Time operations on the May 6 ballot. Owings also asked commissioners to increase the levy for the renewal proposal from 1 mill to 1.2 mills, citing rising costs for the agency.
"Due to the rising cost of food and gasoline as well as a decrease in other funding sources over the last 10-year period, this slight increase is necessary," she wrote. "There is a growing population in seniors in Jefferson County that increases the need of services. This levy will help meet those needs."
While sympathizing with the work accomplished by the agency, commissioners questioned the proposed levy increase.
Commissioner Thomas Graham asked Owings for a budget breakdown on agency operations and expenses as well as what any increase would mean to the average Jefferson County taxpayer.
"I think that would be good information to have," said Graham.
"It would be a 20 percent increase," responded Owings. "We've had to cut a lot of services to retain our basic core services."
She also said she believes the agency will end the year "with a small deficit." Owings also said the agency currently has a 200-person waiting list for delivered meals to homes. If the levy passed, that would be reduced to 100 people on a waiting list, said Owings.
"That sounds horrible," said Owings, adding the lower number of those on the waiting list would be more manageable. "None of this reflects the senior center."
Owings also said commissioners need to approve the resolution by Feb. 5 to be on the May ballot. However, commissioners said they required more information before deciding on the resolution.
"I'm going to need more data before I vote to (put the levy on the ballot)," said Commissioner Tom Gentile.
Commissioner Dave Maple said he is concerned an increase in the levy could jeopardize the entire levy. Maple also asked where funds generated by the levy would go if Prime Time were to cease operations. He added he believes any resolution needs to specify where funds would go if that were to occur.
"I think this stuff needs to be cleaned up," said Gentile.
"If it were just a renewal without an increase I'd vote for it, no problem," said Graham, adding he'd also like to see justification for the proposed levy increase.
Maple added he thought it would be information voters would want to know regarding the proposal. Commissioners tabled the matter and asked Owings for more information.
In other matters:
- Commissioners reacted with alarm after learning the county's indigent attorney fees for the year currently were at $533,000, the highest since 1993.
Part of the fees are reimbursed by the federal government. Still, commissioners said the increase was costing the county too much.
"It's a sad state of affairs with the current (crime) situation," said Graham. "Our law enforcement (agencies) are doing a great job. These are fees we're required to to provide."
"That's a huge amount for indigent attorney fees," said Maple, adding the county needs to investigate the possibility of establishing a public defender's office.
"I agree," said Graham. "We did talk to the judges about this, and they were OK with that."
Commissioners OK'd taking funds from the county's workers' compensation fund to pay the overruns for the indigent fees.
"Thank God for the workers' compensation fund," said Graham.
Maple noted it is ironic the county had gotten the county's workers' compensation costs lowered only to see the indigent fund rise so quickly.
- Commissioners discussed sewage rates for 160 residents of George's Run after receiving a letter from Shannon Gosbin, county sanitary engineer, in which she said residents of the area were promised a lower sewage rate than the county rate, "as long as a project assessment fee was on their property taxes," she wrote, adding the debt payment for the project ends this month.
Gosbin asked commissioners to charge customers there the same basic sewage rate the Jefferson County Water and Sewage District charges all customers - a base rate of $44.75 and $7.40 per 1,000 gallons for over usage.
The residents currently are paying a base rate of $21.75 and $2 per 1,000 gallons for over usage.
Commissioners were puzzled how such an agreement was reached and when. Gosbin said she was unsure.
Commissioners noted that would be a doubling of sewage bills, but the residents should be paying the same rate as other county sewage customers. Graham suggested a letter be sent to residents affected, while Maple asked residents be given more time to be informed of any possible increase until after January.
- During the previous commissioners' meeting, commissioners were asked to renew a water contract with Hopedale. However, commissioners declined until receiving a recommendation from Gosbin on any contract details.
During Thursday's meeting, Gosbin told commissioners the village is paying a $3 per 1,000 gallons used, or the county bulk rate at the time of the contract reached in 2003. Gosbin said the county couldn't increase rates to the village until January 2015, along with notification of any increase by Oct. 31, 2014. She also recommended commissioners meet with Hopedale officials on the matter. Commissioners agreed to do so.
- Commissioners also received a letter from James McDonald, president of the Brilliant Water and Sewer District notifying the Jefferson County Water and Sewer District it intended to raise rates charged to the county from $2.13 per 1,000 gallons to $2.77 per 1,000 gallons effective during the March billing cycle.
Commissioners were critical of the rate increase.
"I think it's really poor timing to get their increase," said Gentile, noting the county recently invested substantial funds in the southern portion of the county's water delivery infrastructure. "This is an immediate 30 percent increase."
Commissioners indicated they wanted to discuss the matter with Brilliant officials regarding the pending increase.
"We still have the ability to purchase water from Tiltonsville," said Gentile.
- Det. Jason Hanlon of the Jefferson County Drug Task Force informed commissioners the task force will be applying for grant funds from the Ohio Drug Law Enforcement to help pay for operations in 2014. Hanlon asked commissioners to serve as the sub-grantee should the agency be granted funding. The task force received $13,000 last year as part of a 25 percent matching grant. Commissioners agreed to the request.
- Maple appointed Brandon Andresen to the community at large position with the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission.
- Commissioners, township trustees and nearby citizens held an open discussion on the possible vacating of Warren Township Road 107 before commissioners decided to table the request to seek further information.
- It was announced the Jefferson County courthouse will be open until noon Tuesday and closed Wednesday. There will be no commissioners' meeting next week.