By CARL E. FEATHER - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ashtabula County Veterans Services Commission made its case for a $877,308 budget before the Ashtabula County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday.
The budget hearing is more of a formality than a request. The Ohio Revised Code requires that .5 mill from the un-voted 10 mills that all county real estate is assessed must be allocated to the commission, which serves the county’s military veterans.
Director Anna Allshouse and commissioners Lanny Swiger, Don Slaby and Dan Whitmire presented the budget to commissioners during the public hearing. No members of the public attended, but citizens budget committee volunteers sat in on the session.
The service commission typically does not use all of its allocation. It returned $359,000 of the $946,626 that was allocated in 2011.
Allshouse pointed out that the commission was spending $250,000 annually on transportation before it partnered with the Disabled American Veterans, which provided three cars and support dollars to the commission.
The commission provides the volunteer drivers for the cars, which take area veterans to appointments at hospitals in Cleveland, Erie and the Youngstown area. Allshouse said the arrangement has cut the local commission’s spending on transportation to about $2,000 per month.
“It’s a wonderful system,” said Whitmire, one of the 30 volunteer drivers. “They pay for the gas, insurance. All we have to do is pay for the driver.”
The commission also has a 10-passenger bus that can accommodate two passengers in wheelchairs and a vehicle used primarily for the staff, which frequently travels for training.
The commission budgeted $240,000 for salaries and wages for its four service officers and two support staff in 2013. The five board members will earn $29,700.
The budget sets aside $250,000 for relief and allowances. Allshouse said the commission provided an average of $1,268 of relief per veteran in 2011. Seventy-nine veterans received financial assistance, and 30 of those were new cases.
The number of veterans in the county is decreasing — in 2006, there 9,998; in 2011, there were 8,873. Whitmire estimated that 3,500 to 5,500 of them don’t even know that the commission exists and can provide many services to both veterans and their widows.
The commission is a state office and not affiliated with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, although it helps veterans access the benefits they are entitled to through the VA.
“We’re not a welfare system,” Allshouse said. “These veterans served their country, and they deserve what they are entitled to.”
The commission members pointed out that the county’s veterans bring back $42 million in federal money to the county every year through their pensions.
“We’ve given back tons of money to the community and taken care of all the veterans who qualify and come to us for help,” Whitmire said.
Commissioners thanked Allshouse and the commissioners for the services they provide. Commissioner Peggy Carlo said the service officers were helpful to her family when her brother had a need.
“They treat you like family,” Carlo said. “We’re so fortunate to have this dedicated staff.”