Children Services will seek levy increase in November

By Kayla Beard

March 24, 2019

Athens County Children Services is requesting an increase to an existing tax levy that supplies a significant amount of the agency’s revenue.

On Tuesday, ACCS Executive Director Cathy Hill appeared before the Athens County Commissioners to request that a replacement levy be placed on the ballot for the general election in November. The levy would not be a new tax but a replacement of an existing levy.

Hill said during the meeting that the existing 2-mill levy, one of two local levies that support the agency, has “never been updated” since it was passed in 2000.

The 2.5-mill levy that will appear before voters in November is a replacement of the existing 2-mill levy with a 0.5-mill increase. According to a fact sheet provided by Hill to the commissioners, the levy would cost a homeowner with a $100,000 home $87.5 a year, or $7.29 a month. The tax would generate approximately $2.75 million annually.

Another existing 3-mill levy, which was renewed in 2015, already generates about $2.28 million a year.

Those two levies combined represent 58 percent of the ACCS budget, according to the fact sheet. The agency also receives 32 percent of its budget from the federal government, and just 8 percent from the state (with the remaining 2 percent coming from other funding sources).

Hill acknowledged at the meeting that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine “has proposed in his budget (for Fiscal Year 2020-2021) to increase the state Child Protection allocation by $30 million, and that’s for the whole state of Ohio.

“If you do the math,” she continued, “by the time that gets spread out according to size of the county and population… it isn’t going to make a huge difference in the bottom line over time.”

Hill said she doesn’t want to “speculate” exactly how much more revenue the county would get if DeWine’s proposal is approved by the state Legislature, but said, “I don’t expect” the state’s contribution to the agency’s overall budget to increase by much.

“Maybe (the state’s share) will be 9 percent” rather than 8, if DeWine’s proposal is approved, “but not a lot,” Hill said.

“The federal government (funds) and our local levies account for the lion’s share” of ACCS funding, she said.

“The numbers estimate that Ohio has been 50th in the nation in state support for Child Protective Services,” Hill told the Commissioners. “Even doubling it (state support), it’ll still be the lowest.”

Hill also explained that the epidemic of opioid and other addictions has impacted children throughout the state, including in Athens County, and consequently has increased costs for ACCS.

“We had another record in 2018 of the care and placement costs for children,” Hill said. Those costs amounted to $2.5 million in 2018, according to the fact sheet.

“In 2017, it was $2.2 (million), and then if you go back five years to 2013 it was $1.5 million,” Hill said. “So that’s a $1 million increase since 2013.”

There’s also been a continued increase in the number of substance-abuse-related cases, Hill said. “For our ongoing cases in 2017, 56 percent of the caseload involved substance abuse,” she said. “In 2018, it was 68 percent. So those numbers continue to climb.”

Another key metric Hill noted is the number of drug-impacted infants whom the agency works with throughout the county. In 2017, the agency served 46 drug-impacted infants; that number climbed to 53 for the year 2018.

“When I first started, this was a handful, maybe a half a dozen in one year,” said Hill, who clarified in a phone conversation later that that estimate applies to about 10 years ago.

Referrals also have increased, from 1,768 in 2017 to 1,866 in 2018; and new custody entries have doubled in the last five years, going from 30 entries in 2013 to 60 in 2018.

“At some point in time during the year last year, we had 166 children in custody,” Hill said. “And there are many more cases than that that we’re working with in the community or in their own homes, or in their schools, that kind of thing. So the issues continue, the costs continue to climb.”

The county Commissioners voted unanimously to place the measure on the Nov. 5 ballot.

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