A brand-new program to help local senior citizens stay independent is on indefinite hiatus as the Liberty Township Fire Department downsizes.
At a meeting Jan. 22, the Liberty Township Board of Trustees voted to suspend the new service coordinator program, which aimed to help senior citizens in Powell and Liberty Township stay independent.
Fire Chief Tim Jensen recommended the move, saying the fire department must become leaner after voters rejected an operating levy on the November ballot.
Marilyn Adams was hired in November to become community's first service coordinator, helping to connect seniors with programs such as Meals on Wheels, personal care, housekeeping, counseling, prescription-drug access and medical transportation. She worked from the Liberty Township fire station on Liberty Road.
"The reality is right now we have to pass the levy and focus on getting trucks out and managing 911 calls, and later on we might be able to revisit it," Jensen said.
He added: "I'm discouraged and disappointed that we have to go to this point, but I'm very proud of the fact that we were the first township in the county to initiate this forward-thinking, visionary program."
The Council for Older Adults of Delaware County, which facilitated the program, will transfer Adams to the city of Delaware to be that community's first-ever service coordinator.
Jensen said though the program was funded by the Council for Older Adults, the fire department managed the program -- and now it can't afford to.
He said it should be canceled even if voters approve an emergency levy to save the fire department on the ballot Tuesday, Feb. 5. (See main story.)
The fire department already laid off 10 part-time firefighters after the November levy failed, and four full-time firefighters who resigned or retired in the past eight months won't be replaced.
Additional reductions are possible even if the new, smaller levy is approved next week.
Fara Waugh, associate director of operations for the Council for Older Adults, said she hopes the senior service program can be reinstated in the future.
"It's certainly our hope and intent that whenever Liberty Township is in a position where you can provide the support the service coordinator requires, we can pursue that opportunity again," Waugh said.
She said the program will be fine-tuned in Delaware and added: "We'll be able to hit the ground running when you guys are ready."
The program was spearheaded last year by Liberty Township Fire Capt. William Piwtorak after he took note of a similar program in Upper Arlington.
There, a service coordinator took more than 500 calls and provided 375 referrals in the program's first three years. It also helped local officials discover seniors who were living in unsanitary conditions or with fire hazards.
Overall, it cut down on the volume of seniors calling 911 for non-emergency requests by more than half.
Officials said Powell and Liberty Township are in particular need of the service because both populations skew significantly older than other central Ohio communities.