Senior Services drops levy
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County residents are poised to get some tax relief next year, after Belmont County Senior Services announced Wednesday one of their levies will be eliminated from county-wide property taxes.
The half-mill levy renewal would have appeared on the Nov. 3 ballot.
“We know that levy’s not needed anymore. … We’re going to let that tax levy expire at the end of this year,” Pielech said.
“This is a reduction which we think may be the first time in the history of the county,” Senior Services Director Dwayne Pielech said. He expressed gratitude on behalf of the department to Belmont County’s taxpayers.
“Historically, the taxpayers of Belmont County have been very generous in support of the senior programs,” Pielech said. “The taxpayers of Belmont County starting January of next year will see a half a mill reduction in their property taxes.”
Pielech said the department will now be funded by 2.5 mills instead of 3 mills. He said the decision was made after months of planning, and several factors including paying off the senior services headquarters and social hall, built in 2017.
“We looked at all the programs. We looked closely. We talked to people at the state level and at the regional level,” Pielech said. “We no longer have the debt on the building. Yes, we have annual operating costs.”
This will mean a loss of $850,000 in revenue for Senior Services.
He said 2.5 mills should be sufficient to operate the department. Along with outside funding sources from the state and federal level, this provides close to $5.5 million to $6 million, exceeding the yearly $4.5 million budget.
In the next month or two, Pielech expects vehicles in the department fleet to be upgraded.
“After we get the next set of vehicles in, our fleet, which will be the nutrition driver fleet, 10 vehicles, our cars that transport the medical clients and some of our center vans will not be older than 2018 models,” Pielech said.
The kitchen will also be upgraded to operate under the current budget structure, including adding another oven for $25,000.
He added the department currently has $250,000 to $300,000 in reserve for new vehicles and kitchen upgrades. He commended Fiscal Administrator Lee Pytlak for her work. Pielech said yearly saving to the average home could be $50 to $100.
“But it truly depends on your property tax situation. Where you’re located, the value of your home,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pielech said the department continues to provide 1,100 meals daily.
“We transport seniors thousands of miles. We’ve had to deliver services differently because our senior centers, they’re not open,” Pielech said.
Pielech asks taxpayers to continue to support the other two levies. A one-mill levy will go on the ballot for renewal in May of 2021, and a 1.5-mill renewal will be voted on in 2022.
He added they believed it particularly important to be able to give some tax relief this year, when many are still suffering economically from loss of employment and other financial hardships due to the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
“A lot of work has been put into this,” Belmont County J.P. Dutton said. Dutton said the commissioners are confident programs and services will continue at their accustomed quality. “Our senior services program in Belmont County really is probably the envy of the state in terms of what we do. The number of centers we have. The number of meals we produce. … When you consider to reduce or eliminate a levy, you don’t take that lightly.”
In other matters, Pielech and various senior center directors are expected to meet this coming Monday at the St. Clairsville senior center to announce plans and rules for the eventual reopening of senior centers throughout Belmont county.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the county’s 10 senior centers have been closed, but the department has been reaching out to seniors with contact and limited activities to keep them engaged during the pandemic.
“We have 10 senior centers. They’re all unique,” Pielech said, adding the rules such as testing staff and visiting seniors will be outlined.