Kitsap County cuts veteran aid 25 percent as need grows

Port Orchard resident Glover “Leon” Ashlock leans against a few tons of wood pellets stored in his garage. The stove fuel was bought with aid funds from the Kitsap County Veterans Assistance program. - Greg Skinner
Port Orchard resident Glover “Leon” Ashlock leans against a few tons of wood pellets stored in his garage. The stove fuel was bought with aid funds from the Kitsap County Veterans Assistance program.
— image credit: Greg Skinner

Military veterans living near the edge of financial ruin in Kitsap County now have access to less aid following the Board of County Commissioners’ vote last week to reduce individual payouts.

The maximum amount of aid per veteran per year was reduced to $900 from $1,200 in a two one vote by Commissioners Josh Brown and Robert Gelder.

The reduction was made to stave off raising taxes, or running out of money based on the current tax rate – the only other options considered.

Gelder said that the overall amount to aid the veterans in need was less this year, when compared to previous years, because it’s part of the general operating budget and nearly every departmental budget was reduced.

The levy is collected at a range of 1 1/8 cents to 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The current levy rate is 1 1/8 cents per thousand.

Without the reduction in payouts, the fund would not make it through the year, Gelder said.

“[The fund] would run out by fall,” he said.

The veterans assistance fund dispersed $357,000 in tax collections to veterans in need throughout 2011. The county set aside $261,000 for 2012, citing a “declining fund balance.”

During the February regular meeting of the county’s veterans advisory board, the board members voted to forward a reduced aid schedule to county leadership for approval.

Leif Bentsen, human services planner Kitsap County Veterans Assistance Program, said there was no other choice.

With the numbers of veterans in need climbing in relation to the continued bad economy, the current guidelines allowing $1,200 in aid per individual veteran per year would have left the fund empty before summer’s end.

On Feb. 22, a bill in the state senate that sought to separate the constitutionally mandated tax collection from it ties to the county general fund and make flexible adjustments to the collection rate without a vote. Kitsap County Commissioners joined others around the state supporting the bill, which would have gone into law in 2013. Most agreed it would  help veterans.

Going forward this year, veterans seeking aid from the Veteran’s Advisory Board will see the maximum allowable aid to drop to $900 almost immediately. Some service such as car repair will drop to $500 and mortgage assistance was dropped completely.

The change to aid dollars came three months after a special election seeking to increase the county’s veterans assistance levy in effort to surmount the static aid budget and meet the growing need with help to veterans living near the financial edge in the county. More than 60 percent of voters said no to an increase of about $12 for the average home.

Under the new reductions, Port Orchard resident Glover “Leon” Ashlock would be able to return to the county this year for help with next winter’s heating costs – if he needs to.

The 73-year-old Cold War veteran and retired shipyard worker was awarded veteran aid this winter to buy several tons of wood pellets to heat the home he shares with his 71-year-old wife.

Ashlock, who served in the Army and then worked until age 71, said medical bills from multiple heart attacks wiped out the family nest egg. Referring to the out of pocket expense of insurance, he said 20 percent of three heart attacks is a lot.

Normally the guy people go to for help, Ashlock said asking for help was tough, but that he needed to make sure his wife would be warm as she recovers from a stroke.

Calling the veterans assistance levy a “good deal” and a form of repayment for service to the good of all citizens, Ashlock said, “If it weren’t for the veteran, we wouldn’t be a country. They deserve everything they get.”

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