By JIM MAURER
STAFF WRITER

A proposed ballot issue to pay for expansion and improvements at 50 North is off after the trustees decided this week to look at other funding options.

The agency is looking at expanding the building on East Melrose Avenue by about 23,000 square feet to provide additional space for the fitness center, as well as interior renovations and replacement of the heating and cooling system.

In the organization’s quarterly newsletter, The Navigator, released earlier this month, Carolyn Copus, executive director, outlined the effort to seek petition signatures to place a levy request before voters in November. A 0.6-mill, 10-year property tax levy was proposed to generate about $9 million. The levy would cost a residential owner with a $100,000 market value (appraised) property about $21 annually, beginning with 2018 taxes, payable in 2019.

But, according to an email from Copus on Wednesday, the board of trustees has decided against a ballot issue.

“(Tuesday) Yesterday the board decided to pursue (a) different funding option for our capital expansion project, and will not be putting it on the November ballot. We came to this decision based on the good feedback we received from our members, valued community partners and others in the community. The feedback was consistent that the community supports the good work we do at 50 North and they understand and actually support the need to expand, but they are really hesitant to add to their property taxes.”

“We are currently in the process of letting our key stakeholders know that the expansion project is still a top priority for 50 North and we are re-evaluating our approach for funding the project,” she said via email.

The Ohio Revised Code requires senior centers “to receive levy dollars through property taxes,” instead of sales tax revenue, Copus wrote earlier this month.

A petition drive would have required 1,969 signatures from registered voters by the Aug. 8 deadline for placing issues on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Expansion and renovations, as listed in The Navigator, would include:

  • An addition to the existing fitness center to expand instruction space, equipment and locker rooms.
  • An indoor fitness track and general use space.
  • Space for the agency on aging and social workers to provide resources for assistance to seniors with transportation, housing, food and other services.
  • Renovation of gathering and activity spaces.
  • Replacement of heating/ventilating and air conditioning system, which is 26 years old.
  • Replacement of kitchen equipment, additional space for mobile meals and the cafe.
  • Site improvements including parking lot repaving and expansion.

There is no charge for Hancock County residents at least 50 years old to join 50 North. There is a fee for fitness center membership. There are fees for some programs and activities, too.

There are about 5,000 members.

Copus has cited several reasons for the need to expand.

The building is at capacity and “is not equipped to handle the (estimated) 44 percent increase in the ‘Baby Boomer’ population that is in process and will be ongoing in the coming years,” she said.

Programs have wait times “for critical services such as chores and Medicare counseling.”

“50 North has run out of space to expand programs and services, and tight spaces create added difficulty in our fitness classes and equipment room for people with limited mobility.”

Without the additional space, the agency “… will not be able to increase the number of people we serve and services we offer as the demand for these critical services increase with the boom in the aging population in Hancock County.”

She said recognition of a “new kind of senior with different interests and needs than those in the past. These older adults will live longer, enjoy better health, intend to stay involved and participate in an active, interesting and more flexible lifestyle. As a community, we need to come together to ensure that the resources are there to ensure our older adults live healthy, productive, independent and happy lives.” In January, Copus, board members and others approached the Hancock County commissioners about placing an issue on the ballot. At the time, 50 North personnel were told the county does not own the building and the commissioners cannot approve an issue for the ballot. Afterward, attorneys for both sides held discussions on the issue and consulted with bond counsel.

Voters approved a 1.2-mill, five-year levy for senior services in November 2016. That levy included renewal of a 0.6-mill levy and an additional 0.6-mill levy. Those funds, about $2 million annually, are used for day-to-day operations and by state law cannot be used for building construction/renovation.

“That levy secured the operations of 50 North for five years, but did not include expanding our physical facility to meet the needs of the future population in Hancock County,” Copus wrote in the The Navigator.

Maurer: 419-427-8420
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