MARTINS FERRY - When the announcement came down that Belmont Senior Services' contract with Belmont County would not be renewed after Oct. 1, it left a lot of unanswered questions in the senior community.
Belmont County Job & Family Services will be taking over the administration and day-to-day operations of senior service programs in the county.
Seniors were left wondering if all the services they've come to enjoy and depend on from BSS would continue.
Dwayne Pielech, the director of J&FS, set out to assuage some of those concerns recently. Pielech, along with Belmont County Commissioners Ginny Favede, Matt Coffland and fellow employees from J&FS met with seniors Friday at the Martins Ferry Senior Center. It was stop six on a 10-center tour that concludes today with meetings at the Flushing Senior Center at 9 a.m. and the Bethesda center at 11 a.m.
''I want to alleviate any fears you may have about the the services you know going away,'' Pielech said. ''I'm here personally to tell you that's not going to happen.''
A big point of contention was rumors seniors had heard about changes to the at-home meal services that BSS provides. Currently, BSS drivers deliver hot meals five days per week to homebound and other seniors in Belmont County. It's a service they've come to depend on.
The question was asked if the hot meals would be replaced with frozen or microwavable meals. The status of the jobs of the food preparation and delivery drives was also inquired about.
''We are talking with outside contractors about meal preparation,'' Pielech said. ''But we will still deliver five hot meals per week.
''We are also planning to provide frozen meals for the weekend which would be delivered on Friday. And there will still be congregate hot meals served at all the senior centers.''
Pielech wouldn't reveal which outside contractor, but noted that he'd been in talks with multiple organizations and feels he's found a quality product.
He stated a big reason in looking to contract the meal program is cost savings. That's the overall theme of the decision not to renew the BSS contract.
''One challenge we are faced with is continuing the programs, despite the strain on federal and state dollars to manage those government programs,'' Pielech said. ''We feel we can continue to offer the same quality services now, through our agency, while working with some outside providers.''
Pielech said J&FS is also looking to possibly contract out some of the home-based care services, but that decision has not been made yet.
The feeling among some of the seniors in attendance was that BSS already does a fine job so why mess with what's working.,
''How can you justify taking over a non-profit organization that is operating successfully,'' one gentleman asked.
Coffland responded, noting that two years ago, BSS had an unsigned contract with the county and a $150,000 note that needed taken care of.
''They were hoping a levy passed so senior services could continue,'' Coffland said. ''And we've watched the last two years and things have gotten better
''Last year, senior services budget was $1.9 million. This year, the budget is $2.3 million. You only have $3 million total and the last year, the budget increased $400,000. Let's just say that keeps going up. In a few more years, they'll be back asking for another levy.
''We feel there is an opportunity now to take those same dollars and invest them and make those dollars work for you.''
Coffland noted that the money currently generated by the senior services levy can only be used for seniors and will not be dispersed to other areas and people assisted by J&FS.
Hughes may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org