WARREN - The Trumbull County Senior Advisory Board says county commissioners are spending way too much of the senior levy on transportation.
Board President Thomas Harwood told advisory board members Wednesday that commissioners spent between $950,000 and $960,000 on transportation last year from the levy that raises about $2.27 million a year.
However, the senior levy board only allocated about $460,000 annually for transportation.
Reporter Raymond Smith interviews Board President Tom Harwood
"That is an unsustainable thing," Harwood said.
The commissioners have been taking money from the senior service commission's $2 million cushion that was established after the senior levy passed in 2005, according to Harwood. In 2006, after the levy's passage, the commission spent very little of the money collected because it was determining how best to use it.
"We did not want to spend the cushion down because when the levy needs to be renewed, we knew it may take a couple tries, so we wanted to have a cushion of about a year so we would not have to immediately start cutting programs," Harwood said.
About $500,000 of the original $2 million cushion is left, he said.
Commissioner Frank Fuda said the commissioners are trying to find a solution to transportation.
"We don't have an answer to this problem right now," Fuda said. "I think there is enough cushion to complete this year. There might have to be cuts made in the next funding year."
Fuda said transportation is the biggest cost of several county programs.
County officials have been using the money from the senior levy to pay for the $635,000 it provides for the Niles transit system, for Elderly Affairs and for other transportation costs for seniors.
"What we will be facing is a confrontation with the commissioners on their liberal use of the senior levy carryover," Harwood said. "Sometime in 2012, we will be literally living within the amount of revenue that is generating from the levy."
Harwood asked whether board members want to continue allowing commissioners to spend the senior levy as they have been doing.
To this point, the commissioners have done pretty much what the advisory committee has advised them to do with the levy funds, except for transportation, he said.
"These things (other senior services) have equal weight as transportation," Harwood said. "In the senior community, there is a growing demand for more services. ... I think the irresponsible thing would be to turn our backs and to allow the cushion we have be spent down to nothing."
Niles Mayor Ralph Infante said the city has been in talks with the commissioners over the last several years about taking over the transit system.
"They are going to fund us next year, which will give them time to find an answer," Infante said.
Fuda emphasized that finding an answer to the county transportation issues is not something that is going to happen immediately.
"If there is a change, it is going to happen in the next year," he said.