LOGAN — On Nov. 5, Hocking County residents will have the opportunity to cast their votes for the Hocking County Board of DD levy that will be on the ballot. The 1.5 mill levy is for the purpose of the operation of community programs and services authorized by Hocking County Board of DD and for the acquisition, construction, renovation, financing, maintenance and operation of developmental disabilities facilities.
According to Hocking County Auditor Ken Wilson, the 1.5 mill levy would cost taxpayers less than $5 per month on a home with a $100,000 market value. The annual amount to homeowners would be $52.50 per year.
Although this levy will appear on the November ballot, it was a long and arduous battle for the staff at the DD office to get to this point. According to Jill Squires, superintendent, she began approaching the Hocking County Commissioners in May, and continued her quest for the levy until Tuesday when she pled her case one more time with the help of those who are served by the programs utilized by the Board of DD.
After being turned down by the Commissioners last week with a unanimous vote to deny the levy, Squires and approximately 50 others, including staff, family members and those utilizing the services attempted to fill the meeting room of the Commissioners.
Because of the number of people, the room, hallway and the lobby of the courtroom was occupied with those who wanted to have their say in why it was so important for the Commissioners to change their minds about the levy.
The Commissioners first denied the levy because they didn’t want to place any more burdens on the taxpayers of Hocking County. However, those in attendance felt it wasn’t up to the Commissioners to decide whether the taxpayers wanted an opportunity to vote for the levy or shoot it down. Those in attendance argued it should be the right of the taxpayers and those voting in the November election to make that decision — not the Commissioners.
Prior to public comments, Sherry Shamblin of Hopewell Health Centers discussed the role that Hocking County Board of Developmental Disabilities plays for its clients; adults who have disabilities and young children who also have developmental delays.
Superintendent Squires also made her plea; however, was told by Commissioner Gary Waugh that he is torn with balancing two things — the concern for property owners and the Board of DD. He said he constantly hears from taxpayers that they must choose sometimes on whether they can afford their monthly medical costs or food for their families due to paying such high property taxes.
One by one, people spoke of the services and how the Hocking County Board of DD has helped them cope with everyday life skills.
Among those approaching the Commissioners was Dennis Clary, who not only spoke about his own two children but also his brother. His story was very heartfelt and emotional.
Clary, a resident of Hocking County for over 20 years, said he has a lot of respect for the commissioners and the tough decisions and battles they face on a daily basis; however, he was very adamant in his plea to them that in order to survive, the Board of DD needs the levy placed on the ballot.
“I know you have tough jobs,” he began. “The citizens of Hocking County elected you to make the hard choices. I am asking you to make the right choice and allow a ballot initiative for the Hocking County Board of DD to go forward. Please do not kick the can down the road.
“I am a parent of and guardian of my now two grown children. They are very special; they are kindhearted and loving adults. They both received early intervention services through Hocking County Board of DD. There is no doubt that they services they received helped them with their education and allowed them to graduate high school.
“Both were diagnosed with autism. I can tell you that the speech and occupational therapy they received through early intervention helped them to communicated better, and cope with their self-injurious behaviors, which helped them finish high school and set them up for a better future.”
He continued stating that his daughter sang in the high school choir and took part in the choir’s Midwest tour to Chicago, and sang in the choir when the choir went to Washington, D.C. and New York.
“Communication is always a problem for persons with autism,” Clary added. “As I understand it the Hocking County Board of DD will be forced to cut the early intervention program, which will make it harder for persons like my grown children and those with disabilities to communicate.
“These cuts will make it harder for the education system to be able, not only to educate but it will make it much more difficult for students with disabilities to be successful in the school setting and in life,” he commented.
Clary also spoke about his brother, whom he is also the guardian of. His brother was diagnosed with low intelligence and a personality disorder. He said his brother has a ninth grade education and did not receive early intervention services.
“He has attempted suicide and has cut himself,” he told the Commissioners. “He has a hard time getting along with others and must live alone, although it is cheaper to live with roommates. This is because when we tried to have him live with roommates it did not work out and he ended up going to jail because he was unable to attain the social skills he needed in order to cope with life’s stressors.
“As a result of his arrest and him being a danger to himself, he was mandated by probate court to the Gallipolis Developmental Center for a 180 day stay to be evaluated,” Clary added.
Clary noted that the evaluation is free if it doesn’t exceed the 180 days; however, if goes over the 180 days, the cost to the county would be billed to the first day, which is $700 per day, which would equal $126,000 for 180 day stay.
“I whole-heartedly believe that if my brother had been provided early intervention services, he would have attained the necessary social skills to live with roommates and stressors,” Clary continued. “The potential expense to the county would have been avoided altogether.”
In closing, Clary asked the Commissioners to ask themselves these questions: How many other people like his brother is living in Hocking County? Do they deserve the chance to have a better life? Is it wise to risk such large potential expenses?
“In your heart you know the answer,” he said. “Let the people decide. Don’t kick the can down the road.”
Sheila Hall also took her turn at speaking. She has a daughter who was diagnosed at birth with a genetic disorder called tuberous sclerosis complex, which causes non-malignant tumors to form in many different organs, primarily in the brain, eyes, heart, kidneys, lungs and lesions on the skin.
The aspects of TSC that most strongly impacts a person’s quality of life are generally associated with the brain, causing seizures, developmental delay, intellectual disability and autism.
While talking about her daughter, Hall couldn’t hold back the tears. Through the Help Me Grow program with the HCBDD, Hall was able to get help for her daughter early on in her daughter’s life. They helped Hall cope with her daughter’s disability and get her connected to all of the services she would need.
Hall and her family have had a connection with the DD program for 33 years, and without the help of HCBDD, she said she would have not been able to succeed in taking care of her daughter in the proper manner.
Throughout the years, Hall has lobbied for those with disabilities until her voice was heard again and again, and Tuesday was no different for her — she was not only lobbying for her daughter but for everyone who utilizes the programs at HCBDD, and she was not about to give up no matter what.
She explained the stressors that each and every family goes through while trying to manage a household and take care of a child with a disability. For Hall, every decision made concerning her daughter is an immediate response — she doesn’t have time to sit around and think about it — it’s an immediate reaction. She stressed the need for the levy and how important it is not only for those already in the programs, but also for others coming into the county.
Hall made sure her voice was heard loud and clear and by the reaction of the Commissioners and the people in the room, they felt her pain she has endured over the years and goes through each day.
Another person, Michael, who is utilizing the services of the Board of DD, spoke out and said he voted for some of the Commissioners but he may not do that again. He pointed to Commissioner Gary Waugh and said, “I voted for you Mr. Waugh.” He also pointed to Wilson, and said he voted for him.
After listening to various comments from those in attendance, Commissioner Waugh had a change of heart and made the motion to allow the levy to go on the ballot. However, Commissioners Jeff Dickerson and Sandra Ogle stood headstrong and stated they needed more time to think about the situation.
But, there wasn’t any time left — 4 p.m. Wednesday was the deadline to have everything to the Hocking County Board of Elections for the Nov. 5 ballot. Even knowing the deadline, the two Commissioners still held headstrong until — more heart-wrenching stories were told by those in attendance — more pleading and begging by those utilizing the resources provided by the Board of DD — and a lot of tears were shed by everyone in the room.
Sandy Starner, wife of former Commissioner Gary Starner, voiced her concern with waiting to approve the levy. Sandy remembered her husband coming home week after week stressing over the county’s budget/issues, “but he always did right by the people of this county,” she said. “I don’t understand why you are putting this off.”
Karon Fisher, removed her Board of DD hat and spoke as a taxpayer/citizen of Hocking County, and said the Commissioners are denying her the right to vote on this levy — she remarked there was a time when a black woman (and all women) did not have the right to vote, by refusing to put the levy on the ballot, the Commissioners are now denying her that right again. Fisher was fighting back the tears as she was speaking, trying to get her point across that it should not be the Commissioners making the decision for all the citizens to vote.
In the end, after listening to the stories and the pleas from numerous people in the room, Commission Dickerson also had a change of heart and agreed with Waugh and said he felt it was necessary for the levy to be on the November ballot. That left Commissioner Ogle to make the final vote — she also agreed.
There was an overwhelming cheer and applause from everyone and many words of “thank you” heard throughout the room, as well as many tears of happiness.
If the levy does not pass in November, the Board of DD will be forced to make cuts in programs including possible cuts to the following: Early Intervention; Help Me Grow Home Visiting; funding for non- waiver services to help individuals attend adult day services; Family Assistance Program; Pooled Funding to Family and Children First Council; therapy for Early Intervention families; and up to 50 percent in staff cuts.
The 2019 budget for the Board shows expenses of $2,906,401, with revenue of $2,589,005; the forecasted/projected budget for 2020 without a new levy shows expenses of $3,190,456, with revenue of $2,658,659. If the levy fails, the Board will need to cut some or all of the above programs and staff.