I have been asked a lot about the Children’s Services levy that is on the ballot Tuesday. While I do my best to answer them in person, I thought it might be more helpful to have a Question and Answer primer for those who still have questions:
Q.: How should I vote Tuesday?
A.: That is entirely an individual choice. My goal is to provide you with information to help you make the most informed decision.
Q.: What is the money used for?
A.: The money is used to provide services to abused and neglected children and their families that are mandated by the federal government, but funded at the local level. These can be services that help keep them safe in their home or services that support kinship care, foster care and adoption so they are safe outside the home. A sampling of the services we provide to families and children are mental health services, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence programs, parenting classes and more.
Q.: Can the money be used for other things?
A.: It cannot. By law, it must be used to protect and serve abused and neglected children and their families.
Q.: Why is this levy needed?
A.: The Children’s Services levy had not increased since 1996. The costs of services to help families and children have increased, along with the trauma families suffer because of untreated mental health issues, domestic violence and substance abuse. When the levy was last passed in 2016, the private consultants who reviewed county spending and the county’s Tax Levy Review Committee both acknowledged that, if spending levels continued at the pace they were on, some sort of increase would be needed to keep the Children’s Services fund from being depleted.
Q.: What are the facts of the current levy?
A.: The current 2.77-mill levy, which first passed in 1981 and was last increased in 1996, costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $56 a year, or slightly more than $1 a week. It generates about $38 million annually. (This is down from about $43 million in 2007, its high point). The county leverages that money to draw down another $30 million in federal and state funds.
Q.: How much will this new levy cost?
A.: The 1.98-mill levy is an investment of $69 per year, or about $6 per month per $100,000 valuation. It will run for three years, until 2021. It will generate an additional $37 million a year that will be used to draw down additional federal funding.
Q.: What if the levy doesn’t pass?
A.: Many of the services are mandated by the federal government and must be provided. Without the levy, we would need to find another local funding source to provide these services or cut or reduce those services.