DJFS delivers budget update

ST. CLAIRSVILLE Dwayne Pielech, director of Belmont County’s Department of Job and Family Services, visited commissioners Wednesday to deliver an update to the program’s budget. Several department heads were present to give accounts of their progress and answer questions from officials and the public.

Among the guests was former County Commissioner Michael Bianconi. He leveled criticism at the decision to create a new position of information officer with a salary of $40,000. He called the move an unnecessary expense, noting the tight financial times faced by everyone.

“I think that’s a ridiculous amount of money to pay,” he said. He later inquired about comparisons between this and other employee salaries.

Vince Gianangeli, fiscal administrator, noted that since the DJFS is five combined agencies, only 20 percent, or $8,000 of the salary, is paid through the senior services levy fund.

Another point is the 32-page monthly newsletter to debut in September, featuring events from all 10 centers. 3,000 copies will be printed. Past newsletters have included current information from such programs as the Ohio Department of Aging, Medicare and Social Security.

The newsletter is paid for by sponsors and printed at no cost through Liturgical Publications Incorporated. Pielech added that the newsletter printing had cost $30,000-$35,000 yearly, not counting the loss of staff time. He said the addition of a public information officer has played a part in streamlining the process.

Bianconi suggested it would be cheaper to hire a printer for the newsletter rather than print it in-house. He also questioned its usefulness. Gianangeli said the estimates showed no better price.

Pielech added that the communications officer will also keep the seniors current on trends, laws and programs that might impact them, as well as work with supervisors to ensure they remain responsive to the seniors’ needs.

Commissioner Matt Coffland said better communications and more frequent financial statements were two major issues among seniors.

Commissioner Charles R. Probst Jr. said he stood by the decision. He noted the increasing costs in 2010 and 2011 before the changeover and the likelihood that another levy would be requested had action not be taken. He added that the commissioners had a responsibility to look to the future as well as the immediate savings.

“We need to position ourselves for a transition of new people coming in and taking over this five-quad agency,” he said.

He and Coffland complimented Pielech and his staff for their work. Coffland noted the budget report, observing that the agency employed more than 90 people and was cut down to 58, while ensuring that the other 34 people were still employed. Other reports noted increased meal and transportation enhancements.

Questions were also directed to Robert Roth, building supervisor and transportation director.

In instances of Medicaid non-emergency transportation, local fire and EMS departments transport eligible patients. Medicaid reimburses them at no local cost, saving road time and vehicle wear and tear. Roth said about 70 people have been moved to that service since January.

Commissioner Ginny Favede raised the objection that the seniors on Medicaid routes were given no choice in the matter. She added that this was unfair to separate and quantify seniors based on their financial situation. Other guests expressed concern about Medicaid eligible seniors.

Roth assured them that no one would be refused transportation for any reason. Senior services would transport them if no other vehicle was available. He noted they transport about 35 per day in-house. Other department heads added that the choice was motivated by dollar savings and the potential for lagging appointments. They said there were few complaints and they will work with the seniors.

Gianangeli compared income and expenses for October 2011-June 2012 to the current budget of January 2012-June 2012. Levy funds were $2,120,410 compared to $1,814,644 while total income had been $2,545,421 compared with $2,169,402.

Meanwhile, total expenses have gone from $2,404,847 to $1,849,436, with total income over expenses have gone from $140,574 to $319,966, an increase of 15 percent. He pointed out the agency’s ability to pull in federal funding has generated additional levy dollars to expand services.

Regarding staffing, Lori O’Grady, human resources administrator, reported today the DJFS Senior Services has 35 full-time employees and 34 part time employees for a total of 69. This includes administrators and managers who dedicate one fifth of their time to senior services.

At the end of January 2012, the nutrition program resumed at Oakview and seven former Belmont Senior Services cooks were hired.

Brenna Rocchio, program administrator, reported individuals receiving light housekeeping services increased from 288 to 350. She noted assessments are performed from all services offered. Senior services also served about 15,000 meals during each summer month last year, which has increased to 17,000 this year. Meal delivery routes increased from seven to eight. Drivers cover 600 miles per day delivering meals and paying courtesy calls. The department was recognized for its efforts during the June 29 storms and power failures.

Other potential additions include the possibility of utilizing the Martins Ferry bookmobile as a mobile resource and office. Pielech added that the Oak View facility suited the agency’s immediate needs, but they were looking into other local buildings for options to purchase or lease for office staff, senior services and the kitchen.

DeFrank can be reached at