Service agencies seek leviesWritten by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Officials at Lucas County Children Services (LCCS) said the agency will be forced to cut a service that helps kids stay out of foster care and trim valuable staff if a levy it’s seeking on the Nov. 4 ballot fails.
Dean Sparks, executive director of LCCS, said the agency has already frozen enrollment and would be forced to eliminate the $180,000-a-year program that provides financial support to relatives who care for kids. That will force more children into the foster care system, Sparks said.
The agency is asking voters to renew and extend its current 1.4-mill levy set to expire in 2016, and support an additional 0.35 mills through 2018. The levy is a property tax that will cost the owner of a $100,000 house $54.25 each year. Residents pay $42 at the current millage.
Sparks said the agency has cut its spending this year from $46.5 million to $40 million and has had little help from the state and federal government. He said LCCS has seen a “significant reduction” in state and federal dollars, placing the burden for financial support on local institutions.
“The State of Ohio is the 50th in the nation in support of child protection; and that’s something that we in Ohio are going to have to struggle with,” Sparks said. “We used to have 405, now we have 349 staff people. We can’t cut anymore. The next cut is staff and services.”
The proposed levy would raise $11.8 million to help LCCS cover its $42.5 million budget. The agency will serve about 12,000 children this year and handle 5,000 new reports of abuse and neglect in Lucas County.
Most of the children the agency serves are 5 years old and younger. However, LCCS is also seeing more older kids because it partners with the juvenile court system and helps kids gain independent living outside of foster care.
The “faces” of those served by the agency are changing, Sparks said; as they come with more needs; they have more siblings; more require institutional care; and LCCS keeps more kids until they are 21 to help guide them through high school or college and into the workforce.
Many children served by LCCS have special needs such as autism, developmental issues or behavioral issues. Some have parents who are victims of domestic abuse, have a mental illness or lack stable housing. LCCS has also worked with more than 100 Lucas County children who were trafficked.
“We’re seeing 9-year-olds that are homicidal and suicidal and kids getting suspended from kindergarten,” Sparks said.
Levy funds would also help LCCS handle the area’s heroin issue, Sparks said, a growing problem as more parents become addicted and more children are born addicted.
Sparks said the agency is seeing success in its foster care program with more kids are graduating high school than ever before and more kids entering college from foster care than in the past.
LCCS has a “very dedicated” staff of 200 caseworkers, Sparks said. If the caseworkers are unable to help the children now then they will return in the criminal justice system later. The figures are dim: a third of foster children end up homeless and another third in the criminal justice system.
“The citizens of Lucas County have always been supportive,” Sparks said. “They have always cared about kids.”
The Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio is asking for a 5-year renewal of the agency’s 0.45-mill levy, which expires at the end of the year, as well as an increase of 0.15 mills.
“It’s a modest increase of 0.15 mills. I say modest because last year we never got the money we were certified [by the auditor] to receive,” said President and CEO Billie Johnson. “That’s the reason we went out for more money.”
Johnson said her agency received $3.5 million this year from its levy, $1 million less than expected.
The agency needs the money, Johnson said, to meet growing demand from Lucas County’s senior population, which has grown by 11 percent since 2010, for its four main areas of service: nutrition, Alzheimer’s care, home care and senior center services.
“We use the levy to match federal and state dollars,” Johnson said. “When we don’t get the money, you can’t deliver the services.”
Ninety-two cents of every dollar goes to providing services,
“[The levy] is really very important,” she said. “We have pretty close to 50 agencies that get this money and if they don’t get these dollars, they will really have to cut services and maybe eliminate some. It’s not all of their funding, but a good portion. Most of the agencies’ funding were reduced since 2009, close to 15 percent, when at the same time, our population increased.”
Mental Health & Recovery
Mental Health & Recovery Services Board of Lucas County is seeking to renew a 10-year, 0.50-mill levy.
The agency said it anticipates about 26,000 Lucas County residents will receive treatment for mental illness or addiction in fiscal year 2014, a 4 percent increase over the previous year.
Executive Director Scott Sylak, who said the levy is expected to generate $3.4 million annually if passed, said the agency lost $2.6 million in state and federal funds this year. Last fiscal year, the legislature put an additional $50 million in the budget with a portion earmarked for the agency. That money was later retracted, Sylak said.
“We still have a tremendous need for services,” he said. “Not only treatment but support that helps stabilize individuals on their meds and helps them recover from their addiction.”
One in four families are affected by mental illness. A significant number are in jails and have contact with law enforcement, Sylak said.
“Voters have been generous in the past,” he said. “We want to keep that momentum moving forward.”
The levy funds will help the agency address the heroin epidemic; allow it to continue to help people — 3,700 last year — negotiate a significant crisis; provide emergency shelter; help house 600 individuals who would otherwise be in a shelter; and fund training for law enforcement, among other services.
“We fund a network of 21 agencies that employ 1,600 individuals,” Sylak said. “We will lose services. If this levy is not renewed, we will cut $3.4 million out of our budget. That will absolutely affect people.”
The agency, in order to be a good steward of tax dollars, took an internal look at itself and lowered administrative costs in 2007. Ninety-four cents of every dollar collected by the levy goes toward its network of providers.
“We recognize we have a lot of work to do,” Sylak said. “Every service we fund has an outcome and we monitor that twice a year.”