December 22, 2014

Elyria
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Veterans Service Commission seeks new location

ELYRIA — The Lorain County Veterans Service Commission wants to nearly double its budget for 2015, saying that most of the additional money would go toward moving to a new location.

The 2014 Veterans Service budget is more than $1.7 million, while the budget request for next year is just shy of $3.2 million. That includes a $1.3 million line item for “building rent.”

Terry Stone, the commission’s executive director, told the county commissioners Wednesday that the additional money is needed because his agency’s current offices aren’t up to the standards to which veterans are entitled.

He said the commission’s offices, located in the same North Ridge Road building as the county Department of Job and Family Services, lacks private spaces where veterans can discuss personal medical and financial issues.

County Commissioner Tom Williams said there is unused space at Job and Family Services that could be used by Veterans Services.

Stone said another reason to move the offices is that veterans are embarrassed for their vehicles to be seen in the same parking lot that is used by people seeking welfare.

“They’re proud people,” he said.

Veterans have unsuccessfully pushed for years to relocate the Veterans Services offices, including an effort to move the offices to the financially battered St. Joseph Community Center in Lorain, which also houses a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic.

Sam Betounes, a longtime member of the Veterans Service Commission, told the county commissioners that the problems at the current offices needed to be addressed.

“It’s about time this issue came to an end,” he said.

But county Commissioner Ted Kalo said the issue isn’t as simple as putting money in a budget request. Although Veterans Services can effectively dictate its budget to the county, the commissioners are responsible for providing office space, Kalo said.

Betounes argued, however, that state law doesn’t solely give control over the location of Veterans Services offices to the county.

County Administrator Jim Cordes, a veteran himself, said the county doesn’t have the money to provide new offices for every department or agency that wants it. The county’s judges also are seeking money to relocate the county’s Adult Probation Department.

Although Cordes said he’d rather spend money on the veterans, the county’s finances are such that the commissioners have borrowed funds to repair roofs of county buildings and fix sidewalks.

County Commissioner Lori Kokoski said that even if she and her fellow commissioners agreed to fund moving Veterans Services, the money would have to be cut from elsewhere in the county’s budget.

She said she is concerned that Veterans Services spends less on providing services to veterans and more on administration than the state average.

The commissioners pointed out that they’ve shown other locations to Veterans Services as possible new office space, but those spaces weren’t acceptable.

The commissioners also suggested that Veterans Services look into opening satellite offices and creating a mobile office that could travel to where veterans are.

Jose Torres, another Veterans Services commissioner, said the issue needs to be addressed soon because the county can expect an influx of veterans in need of services as the military downsizes in the coming years.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.