Photo: Highland County Job and Family Services Acting Director Katie Adams, left, and prosecuting attorney Anneka Collins listen at a special county commissioners meeting Tuesday.
By Jeff Gilliland – firstname.lastname@example.org
There will be a Highland County Children Services levy on the ballot for the November general election.
During their regular weekly meeting Wednesday, the Highland County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to place a 1.9-mill property tax levy on the ballot to support Children Services.
If passed, the levy would be for five years and would cost the owner of a $100,000 property $59.85 a year.
Commissioner Tom Horst said the board wants input on the levy from the community. He said that while nothing has been scheduled yet, there will be community forums in the future to explain the levy as well committees formed to promote it.
“We’ll try to explain to the people, and hope they’ll understand, where we’re at on this thing, and we all feel the same way,” Horst said Wednesday. “We have to take care of these kids. They were put in these situations under no cause of their own. They did not cause what happened to them.”
The levy is needed, the commissioners and other elected officials said a special meeting Tuesday, because an extra $1 million was needed above what was appropriated for Children Services last year and it looks like it’s going to be about the same again this year.
“I hope the voters understand this wasn’t a rash or snap decision,” board president Shane Wilkin said Wednesday. “It wasn’t the first option. We tried to see what we could do to get to a manageable rate and I think Katie Adams has done an outstanding job with that. We had things that needed trimmed and we trimmed those.”
Adams is the acting director of Highland County Job and Family Services, the organization that oversees Children Services. She said that since she took over last year she’s cut approximately $600,000 from the annual budget. But Wilkin said Tuesday that Children Services is looking at expenses of $1.9 million annually, while operating on a 2009 levy that produces about $520,000 annually.
What has driven up the Children Services budget, officials said, is the the number of children in foster care and the need to house them at locations far away due to a lack of enough local foster parents. There are about double the number of county children in foster than there were in 2009, largely due to drug addicted parents, and it costs more now to house them.
There is also the possibility that the county could lose an estimated $807,000 in annual sales tax receipts due to a possible change in the way Ohio collects Medicaid payments.
Wilkin said that if the levy does not pass, “It could have a drastic effect on the services the public is used to if we have to pay that $1 million out of the general fund.”
If passed, Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley said the levy would bring in about $1.48 million annually.
“If it doesn’t pass, and that $800,000 is not coming through, it’s going to not be a lot fun again real quick,” Wilkin said in reference to cuts the commissioners had to make in 2009 that saw each county department funded by the general fund lose one employee and the Highland County Sheriff’s Office lose 14.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.