Transportation is just one of the many services offered through the Van Wert County Council on Aging. (Times Bulletin/Kirk Dougal)
VAN WERT - The Van Wert County Council on Aging has two replacement levies on the ballot this fall and, as was reported in The Times Bulletin in July, if both do not pass the senior center will be closing its doors for good sometime after the first of the year.
Executive Director Cindy Wood made that statement in July and she reiterated the dire economic straits for the agency last week if the funding stopped.
"We will not survive without the levies," she told The Times Bulletin recently. "Unequivocally. There is no amount of cutting of expenses that would save the center. We will just be done. When exactly that would happen, I don't know. But I do know it will happen, whether it is six months, eight months - we will close."
One of the levies is a five-year, .2 mill issue that is split 84/16 with the Delphos Senior Citizens Center, based upon the percentage of Delphos residents who live in Van Wert County. The second levy is a five-year, .25 mill issue with 100 percent of the funds going to the Van Wert COA. Both of these issues have been active for a substantial amount of time, the split issue first gaining approval in 1987, for instance. The two levies are both replacement issues, not renewals, meaning they will be based upon the recent property value adjustments. If both levies pass, a total of .45 mills, the cost will only be $3.75 per month on a home worth $100,000.
Wood pointed out this is the last chance to save the COA. A failure to pass the levies now would make it necessary to try again next May to gain approval. However, any levies passed next year would not be able to be collected until 2013 and the agency would not have enough funds to stay open until that time.
A closure of the Van Wert COA would affect a large number of county residents. The facility feeds upwards of 50 people at lunch, on average, per day. For many, that meal may be the only hot food they eat they whole day.
But the services go far beyond meals. Transportation services are also provided by the COA to places such as doctor's offices as well as local shopping. Disabled persons under the age of 60 are also provided this service for medical transportation with help from the local United Way organization.
"The majority of our transportation is for medical reasons," Wood continued. "A lot of that is within Van Wert - the doctor's office, the eye doctor, the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. For non-medical reasons, we will pretty much take them anywhere in Van Wert that they need to go - WalMart, restaurants, stores, if they want to go see friends - we will take them. But any trips out of town are reserved for medical purposes only within a 50-mile radius. That includes major medical reasons like dialysis and chemotherapy. We average around ten of those trips per week. Without us, those seniors have no way of getting to those places. These are life-saving trips in some situations."
Other community needs are filled with chore services. These include activities such as lawn mowing, minor outdoor repairs to homes, and other items that can no longer be performed by the seniors on their own. These functions do not even begin to touch all of the other services offered by the COA including speakers who help with Medicare supplemental sign up, estate planning, and other timely topics.
Wood estimates that more than 1,500 area residents are signed up for COA services, nearly a third of all Van Wert County residents over the age of 65 and more than five percent of the total population. She was quick to point out the number does not mean that many people use the agency on a regular basis. Some may only use the facility once a year, others once every two or three months, while some do utilize the services on a daily basis. That roster does not reflect the number of people who only use the facility for social services, playing cards in the afternoon and visiting with friends, for instance. Wood also said the number of people on the roster will dramatically increase over the next few years with the aging of the Baby Boomers.
One of the misconceptions that Wood runs into regularly is that people see the "Van Wert County" in the agency name and they assume the organization receives money from the county government or is a part of the general fund expenditures. That is not true. The name refers only to the area of service and no funds come from the county except in the collected levy funds. That is what makes the COA's situation all the more dire.
"(The levies) are our main source of revenue," said Wood. "This is how we operate our vans. It is how we mow lawns. It is how we open the doors every day, because of these two levies. People need to understand that we need both of them to survive. We have one of the best senior citizen facilities around. It is good for the community, it is good for the seniors - it is something the community can be proud of. I can not stress the importance of these levies enough and what it means to the senior citizens of this community."