Stay in West Virginia, play in West Virginia

The new Racetrack/Casino in Austintown, Ohio, went on line Sept.11. Neighboring states expanding their gaming venues is something which has taken place for years now. These states – Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky and Virginia – realize what the revenues mean in these fiscally-strapped times.

So, what are the potential ramifications for Hancock County residents? Should you believe there won’t be any, you need to rethink your position. First of all, county leaders are anticipating a 30 percent drop in revenues. My opinion is that number is low. What that means for all of us is that the generosity of our county commission is greatly reduced. Imagine your own personal income taking a 30 percent hit. You would be forced to make some difficult decisions as to what “extras” you could afford. Our incorporated cities, Chester, New Cumberland and Weirton, stand to lose significant revenues. Non-profit agencies, such as mine, stand to lose as well.

Most of you remember when the table game referendum was on ballots in counties with racetracks. It was 2009, and Joe Manchin was governor of our beloved West Virginia. A key component of that legislation was a stipulation that all up-front licensing fees be earmarked for senior services to provide nutrition, transportation and in-home services.

The Bureau of Senior Services developed two new home and community-based programs at that time. They are Lighthouse, which provides up to 60 hours of personal care assistance each month, and the Family Alzheimer’s In-Home Respite (F.A.I.R.) program, which is designed to provide up to 16 hours of in-home respite for those caring for a loved one with a dementia diagnosis. Those up-front licensing fees, which are paid by each of the establishments holding a table game license, provide those programs. They give HCSS and other county aging programs the ability to provide them for as little as $1 per hour at present. The balance is funded by these up-front fees. It is going to hurt our seniors and their family members. We have 35 people on our waiting list alone for these two programs right now. Multiply that by 55 counties and you see the possible ramifications. Further, consider this; there are 2,000 individuals statewide on the waiting list for the Aged and Disabled Waiver program, which is provided by WV Medicaid. Any cuts to senior services are going to have far reaching affects.

West Virginia has the second-highest median age in the nation at 39.8 years of age. Hancock County’s median age is 45.3 years of age and rising. Plus, we have the second highest percentage of age 90-plus widows in the state. The Northern Panhandle has the highest median age of any region in the state. Over the past five years, the death rate in our county is higher than the birth rate. In short, we’re an aged county getting older by the minute. I, for example, officially become a senior citizen in our great state on Nov. 3 upon reaching age 60.

A reduction in revenues from Mountaineer and other tracks around the state is going to hurt all of us whether you support them or not. No man is an island unto himself. This brings me to my point, stay in West Virginia and play in West Virginia, especially if you are a senior. Growing senior numbers only mean the demand for services is going to increase. Analysts predict senior numbers to grow through 2030. Our elected officials must find ways of fully funding these programs. And we, as providers, must spend every dime we receive.

(E. Mark Knabenshue is executive director of Hancock County Senior Services)