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A shiny new van has become a critical part of the lives of some of the city's senior citizens and residents with disabilities who are in need of transportation.
The senior van will be the main tool of the newly established Aurora Transportation Program. It will provide transportation to doctor and similar appointments within about a 25-mile radius of the city.
Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin, who spearheaded the project, believes it is "a much-needed service for our residents.
"Over the last two years, a number of residents have asked about the possibility of getting some transportation options, particularly for those who do not drive," she explained.
"The problem for Aurorans seeking public transportation assistance is that the PARTA program does not transport outside of Portage County to specific appointments, and many of our residents have medical appointments outside of the county."
Womer Benjamin viewed this as "an important need, especially given the demographics in our community. I was determined to work to create a pilot transportation program. City Council agreed to fund it this year."
A 2016 Ford Transit 150 van was purchased in mid-March at a cost of about $44,000 following the approval of City Council.
Parks-Rec Director Jim Kraus also believes it will be a valuable service.
"Because many hospitals and doctors used by our residents are located outside of Portage County, our residents did not have a transportation option if they do not drive," he said.
Council member Scott Wolf said by providing handicap accessible van service, "We allow our seniors who can't drive, or may no longer feel comfortable driving, to get back some of their independence while at the same time insuring they have a safe and reliable means of getting back and forth to their care givers."
The Aurora Transportation Program is one of numerous services offered by the city to its residents.
Womer Benjamin said Aurora, as "an increasingly desirable residential community, prides itself on offering a high level and variety of services to its residents.
"For instance, police and fire not only provide excellent emergency services, but they also provide support to EMS patients' loved ones, open inadvertently locked car doors and provide an e-commerce safety zone at the Aurora Police Department, among other things," she said.
"All departments are geared toward constituent service and helping residents solve problems that arise.
"As mayor, I think we have an obligation to serve the public with the best services at the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars," she said. "We also listen to what residents need and want in their community and develop new programs accordingly."°°
Sidewalk rehab program
Another new program this year is the city's sidewalk transitional assistance repair (STAR) program that will help residents financially with sidewalk repairs and rehabilitation.
The city will pay up to 50 percent of the property owner's cost for work on sidewalks that cross their property. City Council set aside $50,000 in the 2016 budget for the program.
Council member Denny Kovach said the program enables residents to receive help to repair sidewalks "that they normally may not have a priority to fix. It is a program that benefits all."
Normally, the financial burden for such repairs falls on homeowners. "We decided to help encourage such repairs through this cost-sharing program," Womer Benjamin said.
She said Council member Harold Hatridge was particularly responsible for lobbying for the program.
"About two years ago, I received complaints about sidewalks that were being damaged from trees that were planted in the tree lawns, among other problems," Hatridge said.
"I approached the mayor and her administration to see what we could do to help these citizens repair their sidewalks.°Being proactive to this situation, the mayor suggested that we create the STAR program.
"By fixing their sidewalks, the homeowners increase the safety factor and aesthetics of their home."
The CHIP [Community Housing Improvement] program provides low-interest loans to qualifying Portage County residents for needed home improvements, Womer Benjamin said.
"The program enables qualifying residents to upgrade their homes and help prevent neighborhood blight in our community," she added.
Council member Jim Vaca believes it is "a great program that has been utilized by several dozen residents in my ward. I believe in this program, but there needs to be more information provided to the citizens of the city so they can take advantage of it."
The program is managed by Neighborhood Development Services, Inc., in Ravenna. Through the program, homeowners can receive grants and loans of up to $10,000 for repairs and up to $40,000 for a rehabilitation.
To qualify for this program, the homeowner must be at or below 80 percent of the area median income as established by HUD, they must occupy the home and be current on their property taxes and homeowner's insurance.
Any resident interested should go to the website at www.ndsohio.org or call 330-297-6400.
Septic TANKS CLEANED
Clean and well-maintained septic systems are important for the safety of residents who are not part of the Aurora sanitary system, Womer Benjamin said, and noted the city offers septic cleaning and disposal at a cost of $180.
"This is generally less expensive than outside contractors would charge," she said.
Service Director John Trew said the program helps to keep the city compliant with NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) regulations.
To enter the septic cleaning program, residents need to complete an application that is available on the city's website or at the service center in the water and sewer utilities department, Trew said. Once the application is on file, the service can be scheduled by calling 330-995-9116.
Special assistance programs
Aurora offers special assistance programs for low-income and elderly residents who meet income qualifications, Womer Benjamin said.
Trew said qualifying residents can receive their trash / recycling service at no cost, a water / sewer discount of 20 percent and free snow removal based on a total household income of $19,000 or less.
"The program provides assistance to our residents in need," he said.
Council President George Horvat said the snow removal program was instituted by former Mayor Lynn McGill in 2003.
"It has proven to be a very successful program," Horvat said. "Although it is only being utilized by less than 30 people, it is still a program that really helps people in the winter."
Residents who meet the income guidelines and who are age 60 years or older can receive free snow removal, as can medically or physically handicapped residents who meet the income guidelines.
The program begins each year on July 1 and runs through June 30 of the following year. An application must be filed each year with documentation showing proof of income. Applications are available on the city's website or by calling 330-562-6131.
Aurora's brush pickup program helps residents dispose of seasonal and storm-related debris, "keeping our community's yards and neighborhoods looking neat," Womer Benjamin said.
"The program also helps to keep such debris from collecting in sewers and stormwater ditches, potentially blocking drainage systems."
Trew said the city recently modified the program to include collections from April through October because of the conflict with the city's leaf collection program.
"The November [brush pick-up] collection was challenging our resources because of the high demand for leaf collection at that point in the season," he said. "Our leaf collection equipment was negatively impacted by brush intermingled with leaves."
Aside from the convenience for residents, Trew said the program offers environmental benefits.
"All of the brush collected is processed into a high-quality, double-ground mulch for use, rather than being disposed of with other solid waste into landfills," he said.
Aurora's leaf collection program operates in the fall to clear residents' leaves deposited at the curb.
"While the program is a big convenience to residents, it also helps to promote lawn maintenance and contributes to the attractiveness of our community," Womer Benjamin said.
Trew said during the collection season, it is the city's priority to direct the service department resources to this operation.
"Unlike some cities, we do not limit our pick-ups to once a month or a set schedule," he said.
"Our crews perform a continuous sweep of the city at a speed dictated by the volume of leaves raked to the curb. In this manner, we are able to service residents as often as possible and more frequently during the season."
Last year, leaf pickup began on Oct. 19.
Residents are asked to rake loose leaves to the curb. Those wishing to bag leaves before the pick-up begins may do so and contact the service department at 330-995-9116 when bags are at the curb.
Trew stressed the importance of keeping storm sewers clear of debris, adding that leaves, grass and brush debris can cover the inlets and block water from flowing into them.
Free mulch, humus
As a result of the brush and leaf pickup, double-shredded mulch, humus, wood chips and compost are available to residents at no charge. Piles of the material are located at the Audubon parking lot near 896 East Pioneer Trail, just east of Page Road.
Trew said the service department works throughout the year collecting and processing the brush and leaves into "high-quality hardwood mulch and leaf compost."
"This is an additional residential benefit," Womer Benjamin said.
Council member Amy McDougald believes services like leaf pickup, brush pickup and free mulch "are provided by the city while still maintaining reasonable tax rates. The services are reasons why Aurora is such a great city."
Residents must provide their own labor and equipment. No loading equipment is allowed. The mulch and humus usually are available after May 1 and will be replenished as needed until the supply is exhausted.
This program is intended for individual residential use and not available to contractors.
The community gardens are located at the former Margaret Harmon farm at 1157 Page Road.
"The primary purpose is to provide residents with an opportunity to garden, which they might not be able to do where they currently live," Kraus said.
"The community garden also enables residents to share ideas and techniques about gardening and help build relationships and a sense of community."
The program, which has been in existence since 2010, will be open to non-residents again this year. The cost is $10 per plot per season for residents and $20 for non-residents. Residents have priority over non-residents.
Each plot is 10 feet by 20 feet. The garden is set up with two side-by-side plots with aisles on either side, so there is always an aisle next to each plot.
There will be 213 total plots in 2016, and 112 were rented as of late April. The entire grounds take up 1.36 acres.