Veterans Service Commission suggests staying in building

With a requested budget for 2012 nearly the same as last year for the Auglaize County Veterans Services Commission, the biggest surprise came when officers said they were considering not coming back to the Auglaize County Administration Building.
“Our office is very, very busy as you know,” Auglaize County Veterans Services Director Doug Howard said. “We love where we are. If we could stay out there we would.”
The office was relocated to a former physician’s office on West Auglaize Street for what was supposed to be the time it took to complete renovations on the Auglaize County Courthouse. Renovations are to be completed in June.
Some animosity was expressed by Veterans Services personnel for being required to move from their office on the second floor of the county administration building so other offices located in the courthouse could move in during renovations.
“We felt we were shoved out and relocated,” Howard said.
He said ironically now, they don’t want to leave their temporary location.
Howard said despite elevator access to their second-floor office in the County Administration Building, the single-level rental site has easier access for the older veterans they are serving and no parking problems.
“Looking down the road, when all of our Iraq veterans come back, we are concerned it will not be adequate room,” Veterans Services Commission Vice President Jack Kuffner said of their office in the Auglaize County Administration Building on Blackhoof Street.
He anticipated an influx of those veterans within six months, about the time they would have to move back to the Blackhoof Street location.
Kuffner said they were interested in not only staying where they are in the rental location but in possibly renting the rest of the office and maybe adding employees based on need. They also have an extensive outreach to county nursing homes and to the residences of those who can’t get out to come into the office.
“We want to be able to serve the veterans,” Kuffner said, adding that they had funding from a half mill tax levy approved by voters to pay for their needs. “That is money Auglaize County residents voted on to pay for our veterans care.”
Howard noted they set a record last year with more than $9.5 million in federal funding coming into the county to assist veterans, many of whom they are seeing now dealing with severe health problems caused by Agent Orange from Vietnam.
“We’re not losing them in action,” Veterans Service Commission President Cynthia Preston said. “They are coming back with long term health and psychological problems. We’re seeing more veterans and their disabilities are greater.
“We serve a unique population and we have to take into consideration size and future needs down the road,” she said.
Commissioner Doug Spencer advised the commission that their space in the administration building could be converted to add another office to make room for another employee and an adjacent meeting room could be reserved for larger meetings as needed.
“What are we supposed to do with an empty office space after the temporary move is done?” Spencer asked of the group’s proposal. “You guys are trying to make yourselves sufficient and so are we.
“We’re all about serving the vets and you have a great place to go to do that,” he said, referring to the administration building.
Auglaize County Administrator Joe Lenhart said once renovations of the courthouse are complete, they are hoping to bring all rent paying for county offices to an end.
“We can work together,” Lenhart said.
The commission’s proposed budget for 2012 reflects a zero percent increase at this time to $272,894 for finance and $54,862 for services.
The proposal includes a decrease in salaries by more than $3,000 as a new director takes over after Howard retires with eight years at the helm at the end of this year. The salary change also lowers the amount budgeted by the office for benefits.
Supplies increased by $4,000 to $18,000 to cover higher fuel costs. Howard said this year they have averaged approximately $1,000 a month in fuel for van transports.
Everything else in the budget is staying the same at this point.