ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Voters in Belmont County will have an opportunity in the coming weeks to decide a countywide issue proposing the renewal of a 1-mill Senior Services levy for five years.

The 1-mill levy was first approved by voters in 1997 and has been renewed every five years since then. Money generated by the levy is an important part of the formula of funding that is needed to provide an array of services to frail or homebound senior citizens throughout Belmont County.

Services provided include transportation to and from doctors appointments, preparation and home delivery of meals, in-home personal care services, light housekeeping, caregiver respite, health education and other services for seniors. This funding is also used to maintain 10 active senior centers throughout the county.

For decades, Belmont County had kept a contract with a private agency to provide these services for senior citizens. One year ago, the county allowed its contract with that agency to expire and took over operations. Senior Services of Belmont County became the fifth department operated by the Belmont County Department of Job and Family Services.

Early this year BCDJFS brought back cooks to resume preparation of the meals that are delivered daily on weekdays to the homes of hundreds of local seniors and to the senior centers. The return of meals prepared for the nutrition program by the veteran staff at the Oakview kitchen was a welcome change in the wake of the transition of service providers, the staff and many senior clients have said.

Senior Services of Belmont County is expanding services and reaching more clients today, and with the continuously growing population of senior citizens in the county, the need to continue funding for these services grows as well, officials at BCDJFS said.

Eight nutrition drivers cover more than 600 miles daily delivering meals to around 800 clients. A team of full-time and part-time transportation drivers serves between 35 and 50 seniors daily for their medical and personal transportation needs. The fleet of modern transportation vehicles is now equipped with GPS systems for improved efficiency and additional safety and security for clients.

There are five local home health agencies that provide in-home care to clients in need of services as part of the program. More than 350 clients are served through the in-home care program.

Activities at the senior centers are being enhanced, and during the month of a recent membership drive in August, a total of more than 100 new members joined.

A new 32-page senior center newsletter - The Belmont County Breeze made its debut in September, providing a comprehensive compilation of activities from all the senior centers. The Breeze is printed monthly at no cost to the county, saving an estimated $25,000 to $30,000 in total printing costs annually, in addition to saving each center director valuable time in assembling their own individual newsletter.

New Senior Services brochures highlighting services provided through the senior programs are also being distributed.

To be eligible for participation in these programs, seniors in Belmont County must be 60 years of age or older and demonstrate a need for services. The staff performs assessments for new clients on a regular basis.

During their first annual update to the board of Belmont County Commissioners, the senior management team at BCDJFS reported that Senior Services of Belmont County had spent less than 50 percent of its allocated levy dollars half way through this year and that the administrative staff was committed to stretching local levy dollars as far as possible to maximize services for local seniors.

Today, there is a total of 69 bargaining unit and management employees (35 full-time and 34 part-time) working to make Senior Services of Belmont County a success, compared to more than 90 employees who were employed in 2011 at the private agency that previously oversaw the senior services operation.

With adequate funding in place, Senior Services of Belmont County will be able to continue providing the best possible services to seniors of the county without the need to place new clients on waiting lists in the future, according to officials at BCDJFS, who said the improved efficiency and expanding services at the agency are important components to move these programs forward.

The issue on the ballots is not for a new tax, officials stressed, urging voters of Belmont County to continue their support of the senior citizen programs by voting yes on the Senior Services levy renewal on Nov. 6.

For more information about Senior Services, call (740) 695-4142 or for transportation services, call (740) 695-6868.