Belmont Senior Services may change hands

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Belmont County Commissioners are considering a change in management for Senior Services next year. A possible plan may include establishing a separate senior services department directly under the board of commissioners.

Commissioner Charles R. Probst Jr. said the commissioners had been speaking with Dwayne Pielech, director of the county Department of Job and Family Services, which has managed senior services for the past months.

“It’s not that that the seniors are not being taken care of in any way, shape or form, but it was a huge undertaking for us to ask him to do that,” he said. “It may be a good idea to take Senior Services in another direction.”

Probst noted issues such as the added workload.

“They want to continue to do it, but they understand it’s just too much,” Probst said. “Human Services did a wonderful job in taking over this massive organization.”

Another issue is the possible advantage of an agency seeing to senior issues full time compared to the DJFS, which operates Senior Services as one of five divisions.

In addition, there are major cuts expected for Human Services and Probst said Pielech would focus all his attention on adjusting to those changes.

“We are trying to make sure we save those jobs there or as many jobs as we can, and continue to move forward without cutting services,” he said.

Probst noted that this would call for the creation of a new director and possibly a finance administrator and possibly two other employees to handle senior service operations as a stand-alone agency, although the number of new employees would depend on how many duties the director would be qualified to perform.

The commissioners will begin meetings to discuss the legalities of such a change, as well as financial specifications and continuation of services and programs. One issue is the funding sources, services and programs that the DJFS has been able to provide as a county agency compared to what had been previously available through contracting with a private service. Probst noted the county would have access to similar means and voiced the possibility that the county might be able to contract with DJFS to continue some programs.

The commissioners are researching other counties which use similar systems.

“Naturally, we want to make it cost effective and be able to provide as many or more services,” Probst said.

Such a changeover might occur after the first of the year. It would likely include an advisory board of seniors. The county would also look for a new facility and kitchen.

Probst noted some seniors had raised issues about the current operations. Clarence Briggs, guest, said the seniors had expected monthly expenditures would be posted.

Commissioner Ginny Favede said there is a need to work with seniors and gain their input.

“We weren’t working with the seniors,” she said. “We’re not just making a change for the sake of making a change.”

Commissioner Matt Coffland dissented, noting that the change from a private company to DJFS led to a reduction of $450,000 to less than $80,000. He added that public meetings have been held and records and reports have been made available. He said he has visited the senior centers and he believes that a consensus of all seniors should be obtained before making a decision.

“I think that we are not giving our Job and Family Service members who took on a major operation, corrected it and straightened it out enough credit,” he said. “We’ll let the people decide that. Every one.”

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