WILMINGTON — County commissioners voted Wednesday to place a 1.1-mills additional Children Services levy on the ballot to generate funds to protect a greater number of children in foster care due to the opioid crisis.
The commissioners’ decision came after they received the findings of an outside consultant’s operational and fiscal review of the Child Protection Unit of Clinton County Job and Family Services (JFS). The assessment was conducted “to ensure everything is being done that can be done, before asking Clinton County voters to consider an additional Children Services levy,” stated a commissioners’ press release issued in June.
The eight-page report concludes that without additional funds, Children Services will run out of its cash reserves within the first three months of 2019.
The report found that a rise in Children Services costs since 2014 is related to the number of children in care increasing over the same period. Staffing and other administrative costs have remained flat while foster care costs continue “to take a bigger and bigger chunk of the pie,” stated the report.
The report states that the budget shortfalls since 2014 had been covered by using Children Services’ carryover cash reserves, thus diminishing those dollars.
Children Services cannot keep relying on those carryover funds to balance its budget for the future, according to the report.
“An ongoing revenue source will be needed for the next several years before there is a possible stabilization or reduction in the court-ordered protective supervision opioid/drug cases coming into the system,” said the report.
The assessment report recommends collecting an additional $1.1 million annually during the next several years. If approved by Clinton County voters, the five-year 1.1-mills property tax levy on the November ballot is estimated to generate $1,092,000 annually.
The Wednesday vote by commissioners was 3-0 to put the levy on the ballot.
The substance-abuse scourge has led to an increased need to place children of addicted parents in foster care, or, because of an imminent safety threat, in the households of relatives or friends, as the News Journal has reported.
Clinton County Commissioners President Patrick Haley said Wednesday one reason commissioners had a consultant evaluate the Child Protection Unit of Clinton County JFS is they didn’t want to base their levy decision on emotion.
Clinton County Commissioner Kerry R. Steed called the outside review “a second opinion,” and he cited it as support for going ahead with placing an additional tax levy on the ballot.
The commissioners’ legal counsel — Assistant Clinton County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew McCoy — said in some respects it’s difficult to project an amount for the additional levy because “we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring in terms of foster care.”
He followed up that comment by advising commissioners that they are not required legally to continue over the term of the levy to actually tax at the full voted-upon millage.
A good local example of that, said McCoy, is the Board of Developmental Disabilities. There have been times when it collected tax revenues at less than the full amount, he said.
“They’ve reduced the rate upon which they collected; they’ve collected to match their actual needs. So that would be an option for you,” McCoy told commissioners.
He added that if in 2019 or 2020 the foster care numbers go down, “you could actually reduce the rate at which you collect.” What commissioners cannot do, said McCoy, is on their own increase the collection rate above the voted-upon millage level.
Later McCoy observed that if there is a Children Services budget shortfall but no new source of revenue, the gap between expenditures and revenue becomes a General Fund obligation.
That, said Steed, would mean cuts in county government services paid for by the General Fund.
Clinton County JFS Director Kathi Spirk recommended to commissioners the five-year, 1.1-mills additional levy.
The evaluation report was presented to commissioners by Douglas E. Lumpkin of Interconnections Consulting Group in Columbus. His background includes serving as director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and also of Franklin County Job and Family Services.
He also has been chief operating officer for the Ohio Auditor of State.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.