ST. CLAIRSVILLE Belmont County has taken further steps in creating a separate senior services department.
Commissioners have hired David Hacker as coordinator of senior services. The new coordinator is a resident of Martins Ferry and will take on the position Sept. 30.
Commissioner Ginny Favede said his task during the following month will be to work within the existing structure and oversee operations and the transition.
Hacker is currently director of programs and services for Easter Seals of West Virginia and Southeastern Ohio. His salary will be $55,000 plus benefits.
She said 17 people are currently shared services DJFS employees who spend a portion of their time with senior services. They will be replaced by a senior service staff.
All other members of the senior services staff, such as food service, food preparers and drivers, will remain as they are.
"Instead of 17 people spending some time on senior services, we will have a few who will spend every day focusing on senior services," Favede said.
She added that the senior services staff will initially be the coordinator alone, but a finance director may be added later.
"Initially, the program coordinator will be very hands-on, so I don't foresee that many new full-timers. He'll oversee much on his own," she said.
Favede added that the oversight of a full-time coordinator will be vital in the progress of future projects such as constructing a new senior center in Flushing.
The news comes on the heels of the latest in a series of debates between commissioners, divided concerning the wisdom of creating a separate entity for senior services rather than leaving it under DJFS.
Commissioner Matt Coffland presented information on the status of the combined DJFS/senior services agency.
He added that operation costs with shared services for the first eight months of 2013 were $1,985,822.57. Shared cost reimbursement was $27,944 for August and $74,689 for January through the year to date.
"We get a lot of employees for that money. We're talking about offering one position right now at a rate with benefits, one employee that will be over that amount for the full year," he said, adding that in his opinion the present system offers the best return for their money. Coffland said that while he initially opposed the combined agency, it has proven itself and he has reservations about a change.
He added that the addition of a director, a finance officer, and someone to helm transportation, the county would exceed the senior levy dollars currently spent. He said a separate program should be run at close to the same cost as the current system.
Coffland noted the expertise of the shared employees who specialize in diverse fields and said they were able to work effectively despite spending limited time on the job.
Favede countered that shared costs for senior services varied with total cost for 2012 at $149,107. The decline in numbers indicates the resignation two months prior of Dwayne Pielech as director, adding that he was the most highly-paid employee. The cost also does not include Lori Bittingle, program supervisor with a salary of $80,000 including benefits. Favede said a coordinator is $10,000 less and covers those supervision duties. The end of 2012 also included layoffs of three people.
She added that although cost is down, so is the number of hours being contributed towards senior services.
Favede noted that the county collects $4 million annually in levy taxes for the purpose of senior services.
"We cannot in good conscious collect $4 million and brag that shared services with no full time supervision of senior services only costing us $130,588 annually in shared services," she stated. "If we cannot afford a full-time director to oversee the expenditures and day-to-day activities of all things monitoring senior services, then I question why this county is collecting those kinds of funds, because the money needs to go to what its purpose is."
Coffland pointed out the added clients, growing services and planned construction projects.
Favede noted the costs for running 10 senior centers total $599,119 annually, plus $35,286 for vehicle costs. The centers serve about 150 seniors five days per week.
Favede added that she feels the DJFS combination was a mistake.
"As an elected official it remains one of my biggest regrets," she said.
DeFrank can be reached at email@example.com