The Butler County veterans board wants to help as many of the 26,000 veterans as possible, but many vets don’t know how to get help.
Now, it appears county commissioners are on board for the Butler County Veterans Services Commission to spend 15 percent more to accomplish those goals.
Vet board commissioner Chuck Weber was fully prepared to go toe-to-toe with the county commissioners, fighting for a $100,000 advertising budget for next year. County Commissioner Don Dixon on Monday seemed to have settled that issue.
“I think you are very transparent,” Dixon said. “The more you advertise, the more you get the news out, the more expenses you will have, and that’s your job.”
The vet board has talked for years about advertising to get the word out that they are there to help veterans, not just with emergency financial assistance, but in myriad other ways.
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“I think we do not need to be deterred in our objective this year,” Weber said when the board passed their budget last month.
The commission is funded by a percentage of the general fund millage the legislature carved out to help veterans.
Butler County’s millage brings in about $3.4 million annually, but historically the board has budgeted $2 million or less, doling out emergency cash, helping veterans navigate the Veterans Administration system, arranging and paying for transportation to medical appointments and finding local services for everything from legal issues to marriage counseling.
The remainder of that money reverts to the county’s general fund.
Before several new commissioners joined the vet board in the past two years, a voting block of three commissioners on the five-member board blocked most attempts to advertise. The board has committed $51,975 this year for radio ads, and next year members are considering adding television ads into the mix and possibly a newspaper buy with the Journal-News. The vet board is collaborating with Warren County on the radio ads and possibly television ads.
Since Warren County has been advertising, transports for medical appointments have increased 250 percent from 1,225 in 2012 to 4,282 last year, according to Executive Director Rod Eversole. Butler County is hoping for similar results, hence the increased $2.2 million budget.
Butler County Veterans Services Commission Executive Director Caroline Bier told the commissioners her group will reopen an office in Middletown. They closed that office 14 months ago because their service officer who staffed that office retired, causing manpower issues.
Bier said they lost three veteran service officers in a two-month time frame, which left only two experienced service officers of the five on staff. There are a total of 11 on staff at the agency, including Bier, the service officers, benefits coordinators and office staff. The new service officers are now up to speed in their jobs.
The new office will have space for four offices – one for a service officer, a benefits coordinator, a receptionist/transportation scheduler and Bier, who will be there a couple days a week. They have asked the county commissioners for $11,000 for furniture and expect to spend about $21,000 on rent.
Other increases in the $2.2 million spending plan include a 14-percent increase, or $400,000, for transportation for veterans’ medical visits. They will be renegotiating the contract and expect to be serving more vets because of the advertising.
Bier also upped the emergency financial assistance figure to $737,500 from $544,131 in 2015 because they expect their advertising campaign will be successful.
Commissioner T.C. Rogers asked Bier about the five percent hike she penciled in for wages. The commissioners have said they want a two percent pool for performance pay.
She said, per wage consultant Clemans Nelson’s recommendation, they will do another study to see if their pay scales are still in line and that could produce salary increases along with performance pay.
“In December after we do the annual evaluations, the board will be approving recommended performance pay increases,” she said. “I project those are going to be from zero to three percent. Not everybody does the same kind of job.”
The vet board has been through years of turmoil over the past executive director, accusations of racial slurs, complaints and board actions and infighting that caused Prosecutor Mike Gmoser to step in and tell them to shape up.
Commissioner Cindy Carpenter had high praise for Bier and the current board.
“Thank you. You have put a lot of work into increasing the level of professionalism, and we appreciate that,” she said. “Every agency that has a good image makes the county look good.”