How Butler County’s vet board is expanding services with its new budget

Butler County Veterans Service Commission Thursday, May 16, 2019 in Hamilton. The Butler County vet board is starting to branch out into other ways to help veterans, like the proposal to subsidize bus fares for vets who need a way to work. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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Butler County Veterans Service Commission Thursday, May 16, 2019 in Hamilton. The Butler County vet board is starting to branch out into other ways to help veterans, like the proposal to subsidize bus fares for vets who need a way to work. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

As the number of veterans seeking the Butler County Veterans Service Commission’s assistance continues to climb, the commissioners approved hiring an additional service officer next year.

The board approved the 2020 tax budget Wednesday after adding $42,505 for a new service officer, bringing the tentative spending plan up to $3.1 million, a 5.8 percent increase over this year.

“I’ve said it before, one of our goals should be to get enough traffic through the door that we are forced to hire another service officer,” board President Chuck Weber said.

Since 2016, when the board started advertising its services, the number of veterans served has skyrocketed. Last year the agency served 1,194 more veterans than in 2014, and it has already helped 1,900 people through April this year.

RELATED: Butler County veterans could get free bus passes to look for jobs, get to work

The commission, which is responsible for being available to help about 26,000 veterans, is funded by a percentage of the general fund millage the legislature carved out to help veterans. Revenues from the millage got a boost this year because property taxes are up, so the board expects about $3.8 million in revenue, an additional $400,000, for next year.

Executive Director Caroline Bier had not requested the extra person, but Weber and Commissioner Bruce Jones said they were concerned veterans are having to wait too long to see a service officer.

“If our numbers continue to go up I agree with Chuck, we shouldn’t make a veteran wait two to three weeks for an appointment,” Jones said.

The tax budget also has $100,000 more for transportation. The board will be renegotiating its contract to transport veterans to Veterans Administration medical appointments. Bier also increased the amount because the board is negotiating with the Butler County Regional Transit Authority to offer discounted or free bus passes for veterans to hunt for or get to jobs.

Commissioner Tom Jeffers, who is working on the new service with Jones and Bier, said they have spent most of their time trying to get veterans familiar with what the board does. Expanding the services offered hasn’t been done before.

“What we’ve been doing is trying to get people to understand our services, what we’ve been offering,” Jeffers said. “This is something new we want to get into to help again, help the veterans with their employment and transportation.”

The board, an arm of county government, offers emergency cash, helps veterans navigate the Veterans Administration system, arranges and pays for transportation to medical appointments and finds local services for everything from legal issues to marriage counseling.

The allotment for advertising is also increasing by $4,000 to $180,000 next year. After stalled attempts to boost its identity and reach more veterans, the board agreed to spend $27,000 on four radio stations in March 2016.

BCVSC ads are running on four Cumulus stations and two iHeart Radio stations including WLW, plus in the Journal-News. Weber routinely participates as an on-air talent for the radio spots.

Bier said this will be the last year she recommends an increase for ad buys.

“I don’t think we need to expand anymore advertising,” Bier said. “We are getting the feedback, I’m just afraid a lot more advertising is going to be too much.”

The final budget will not be voted on until the fall when the county commissioners hold budget hearings. Because the commission is an autonomous board the county can’t really dictate its spending.

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