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Summit County Children Services seeking tax renewal and increase in November

October 11, 2018

Summit County Children Services seeking tax renewal and increase in November

AKRON, Ohio - Summit County voters will be asked during the November general election to renew and increase a Summit County Children Services tax for the next six years.

Issue 8 would renew an existing 2.25 mills property tax and request a 1 mill increase, for a total of 3.25 mills for six years – 2019 through 2025.

If the tax is approved, owners of a $100,000 home would pay an additional $35 per year in property taxes.

The tax revenues represent about 58 percent of the agency’s revenue. In May, the Summit County Social Services Advisory Board recommended the renewal levy be placed on the ballot.

Summit County Children Services has not asked the community for a tax increase in more than 30 years, Executive Director Julie Barnes told cleveland.com on Thursday.

In the meantime, the cost and care of children affected by the opiate crisis has increased, and the agency’s resources have declined.

Ohio ranks fourth in the country for opioid deaths since 2010, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports. Last year in Summit County, 2,189 overdoses were treated in local emergency rooms. 

Children Services is mandated by law to protect children from abuse and neglect, Barnes said, and substance abuse leads to neglect. The agency now serves about 10,000 Summit County children each year.

Since 2008, when state funding dropped and Summit County property tax values declined, Children Services staff has decreased by about 50 workers, Barnes said.

In the meantime, calls to the agency’s 24/7 hotline have increased from about 9,000 calls per year in 2008 to 11,000 calls in 2017, the agency reports

“The struggle is the volume,” Barnes said.

Since the opiate epidemic began, children have entered the system at an increased rate and are staying longer in the system. The rate of children returned to protective service also has increased, Barnes said.

And until a child is returned home or adopted, Children Services is financially responsible for the child’s care.

The agency works to identify relatives who can care for the children, and about 42 percent are placed with relatives or close family friends. That is the best scenario for kids taken from their homes, Barnes said.

“No matter how bad the experience is, it’s traumatic being removed from their environment,” she said.

If the levy is approved, the agency plans to:

Boost recruitment of foster and adoptive familiesProvide more and better resources to support relatives who take in children despite being pressed for resourcesDevelop more preventative services for families with substance abuse issues to help keep kids in their homes

If additional funding for the agency is not approved, Children Services budget would be cut by 20 percent and the agency would be required to cut about 34 percent of its staff, the agency says.

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