Senior Services sparks debate

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Belmont County Commissioners heard an objection to planned separation of Senior Services from the Department of Job and Family Services during Wednesday’s meeting of the county commissioners.

Geary Battistelli, concerned citizen, addressed the board and proposed placing senior services under the control of the seniors through the creation of an advisory board with a finance committee person appointed by the commissioners, an appointee by the seniors and one by DJFS, answerable to the seniors.

He criticized laying off DJFS employees while planning to hire administrators. He noted that when Senior Services was defunded there was a $900,000 deficit projection. The last quarter projections from 2012 show an $833,000 surplus.

“There’s no reason to upset the existing structure that you have on a subsidiary basis,” he said, noting the use of passport, labor, Medicaid and other services. “It makes no sense to me to interrupt the funding mechanisms.”

He said there is an advantage of merging the departments that handle child support and senior services to gather the most vulnerable citizens under one aegis.

He also objected to the planned resignation of DJFS Director Dwayne Pielech, noting his qualifications and familiarity with the operations and the potential for disruption in finding a new director who may lack this experience. He gave the opinion that Pielech might have faced a lack of cooperation from the commissioners.

Battistelli referred to commissioners’ resolution from 1998, stating that for the purpose of allowing a department head to better operate without interference, all communications, directives and policy decisions from the board of commissioners should be in writing and signed by a majority of the board. He said he believed the provision had been violated.

Battistelli suggested hiring hourly laborers so less DJFS employees would do senior services work rather than hiring administrators.

He opinioned that the process of dividing the departments has been overly complicated and delayed during the past months.

“To allow the problem to go on and on and on is unnecessary,” he said. “This will go on for months.”

He requested commissioners rescind the vote accepting Pielech’s resignation, establish a new Senior Services manager, and resolve the division.

Commissioner Matt Coffland reaffirmed his belief that the division of Senior Services from DJFS is a mistake. He said the numbers have not adequately convinced him that the move would be an improvement.

“There is a major divide here,” he said, adding that there have been no complaints. “I feel that Job and Family Services are doing a fine job.”

Commissioner Charles R. Probst, Jr. criticized Battistelli’s speculations and said the facts of his presentation were not entirely accurate.

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