Geauga County Commissioners asked for more information last week before giving their blessing to a proposed merger of Geauga Community Action and Lake County Lifeline.

Representatives of the social service agency, which helps low-income Geauga residents with financial and services assistance, appeared before commissioners, seeking to dissolve the local organization and merge with a like-organization in Lake County.

Sheila Bevington, president of the board of directors for Geauga Community Action, explained that the organization relies on a two-year, $275,000 community block grant for operations. Restrictions placed on that grant have made operations financially untenable, she added.

To remain compliant with the terms of the grant would preclude the organization from hiring any staff to maintain its services, she said.

If the merger is approved, Ms. Bevington said, the grant monies would go to Lake County, although the money must be spent to benefit Geauga residents.

She said Lake County Lifeline would maintain an office in Geauga County and the merger would allow for an expansion of services offered.

She said of Ohio’s 88 counties, 53 are now products of mergers.

She said the organization’s current status and lack of funding will make it difficult to remain in compliance and continue to receive the funding needed for the programs. It is the agency’s only source of funding, she said.

Robert Voss, with Geauga Community Action, said the agency has attempted to secure additional grants for the past three years, but was unable to convince those agencies to provide the funding because of the “organization barely surviving.”

Ms. Bevington said the organization also spoke with officials from Ashtabula and Portage counties to gauge their interest in a merger.

Carrie Dotson, executive director for Lake County Lifeline, said their organization remains solvent with a $2 million annual budget and 27 employees. She said her agency would expand its board of directors also to accommodate Geauga representatives. She said the organization has been established since 1973.

Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri asked whether the program could be brought under the jurisdiction of the county’s Job and Family agency.

Mr. Voss said the services can only be provided through private organizations with 501(c)(3) status.

Ms. Bevington said the merger will allow for more money to become available for services for Geauga residents.

Mr. Spidalieri expressed concerns about the county losing out on money with the deal and questioned whether the county could have to end up paying more for Jobs and Family Services to handle administrative duties.

Commissioner Timothy Lennon agreed. “We need to make sure we’re not stepping over a dollar to pick up a nickel,” he said.

Commissioners said they were not ready to vote on the merger and Mr. Lennon said he wanted a breakdown of the agency’s financials, including salaries, before deciding the matter.

“We want to make sure this will work for Geauga County,” Mr. Spidalieri said.

Mrs. Bevington said a decision must be made relatively soon because the core grant that supports the programs must be applied for by October.

Joseph Koziol Jr. started his career in journalism in 1981. He joined the Solon Times in 1992 and covered the city of Solon for 10 years. An award winning reporter, Mr. Koziol has been covering Geauga County since 2012.

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