Central Connections, which provides home-delivered meals, transportation and independent-living help to older Middletown-area residents, hopes to put a tax-levy renewal on the May ballot to help pay off the mortgage on its building at 3909 Central Ave.
The organization will need “yes” votes from 4 of 5 members of Middletown City Council on Tuesday to take a step toward placing the issue on the May ballot. That’s because to meet tight deadlines the issue will be placed before the council as an emergency matter, requiring more than the usual majority vote.
Central Connections serves not only senior residents, but also others who are 50 or older, and calls itself a lifeline for many in the Middletown area, keeping many of them in their homes.
It provides nearly 10,500 home-delivered meals a month to people, 84.4 percent of them in Middletown zip codes; an average of 1,094 essential trips a month (88.5 percent to people in Middletown zip codes); and independent-living help to an average of 28 clients per month, 95.4 percent of them in Middletown zip codes.
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Richard “Dick” Isroff, a board member, finance committee member and co-chairman of the levy committee, told council Dec. 20 the levy renewal is needed because of budget cuts that have cost the organization $450,000 in annual funding from Butler County.
“Unfortunately, through the county, we’ve lost over $450,000 worth of annual income,” Isroff said. “That $450,000 prevents us from being able to complete our goal, which was to be able to pay off our mortgage.”
About $1,260,000 remains on the mortgage, Isroff said.
“This levy will take us out of debt, pay off our mortgage, and do something that everybody needs when you have a major facility, which is create a sinking fund for future security of our building,” Isroff said. “So what we’d like today is just to ask you to let the citizens of Middletown make that decision, and ask you to let us put this on the ballot, and let us find out where the citizens stand, and how they feel about our senior citizens’ organization.”
City Manager Doug Adkins said his administration might have difficulty meeting deadlines necessary to place the matter on the May ballot. Adkins also said Middletown has some of the highest property taxes in the state.
Tax rates already high
“We’ve also talked a little bit about being the highest effective tax rate for property taxes in Ohio,” Adkins told council members. “I’m not saying that to sway your decision either way, other than the levy falling off does help us in that manner. So services versus property taxes, it’s one of those situations, I’m not sure there’s a right answer. It’s more the view of council on how they would like to move forward.”
Some council members seemed wary of renewing the five-year levy, which expires in late 2017. In Talbott Moon’s case, that’s partly because of the high tax rates, and partly because even more funding cuts from Ohio’s state government may be on the way.
In response to Adkins’ comment about Middletown’s high property-tax rates, Moon said: “Both options seem to be not great options.”
Isroff predicted: “We’ll be self-sustaining after this renewal.”
But Moon noted: “The governor has already come out and said it’s going to be another lean budget,” and added he fears “we’re going to be having the same conversation in five years.”
Isroff responded: “You have a crystal ball?”
And Moon replied: “Yeah, I don’t. I know.”
Moon also said: “I’ll say here what I said when we met privately, that whether this council decides to put it on the ballot or not, in our economic system, people vote every day with the non-profits they give to and … where they spend their dollars. That needs to be a major factor.”
A safe place
Monica Smith, executive director of Central Connections, called the center a “safe place” that connects people with the outside world and meals, and improves their quality of life by allowing them to remain in their homes.
“This is a safe place for the senior citizens of Middletown to come,” she said, adding: “We’ve grown our catering and our rentals” to raise money for services the organization provides.
“I have someone who’s here every single day for a meal,” Smith said. “This is her only hot meal — she has an aide who comes with her — and this is her only time to socialize. This is her bright spot.”
Recently, Smith said, that woman “got robbed. They came in. She had a little stash. She gets $125 in food stamps a month. And people had gone together and gotten her gift cards. They stole all her gift cards, all her cash. She came in and couldn’t pay her ($50-per-year) membership fee, and was just distraught.”
Given the circumstances, her fee was waived, and extra meals were boxed up for her.
“That’s just one story,” Smith said. “I have a gentleman who told me this is his life. His wife has passed away. This is where he comes. So that’s why the building itself is important, and people feel safe. We have adult children who drop their parents off here, and they’re here all day. And we’re not an adult daycare, but where else would these people go if they did not have the senior center to come to? And we keep them independent (and able to remain in their homes).”
“The monies that we get from the levy strictly have gone toward paying off the mortgage, and people say, ‘Well, what if you just move to another building?’” Smith said. “Well, the purpose of building this building was we outgrew the last building.”
“There are a lot of things that need to operate out of this building,” Smith said. Without a levy’s passage, “There’s a lot of different things that we will look at to try to save this building and save the things that go on in this building.”
“All we are asking is that we let the voters decide — we let the citizens of Middletown decide — and at least get it on the ballot,” Smith said.