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Cuyahoga County Asks Voters For Health And Human Services Tax Increase

Cuyahoga County's administrative headquarters in downtown Cleveland. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
Cuyahoga County's administrative headquarters in downtown Cleveland.

Updated, 7:30 p.m., 12/10/19

Cuyahoga County voters will decide in March whether to increase property taxes for addiction and mental health treatment, senior services, childcare and other county programs.

County council voted 9-2 Tuesday night to send the levy replacement and increase to the March 17 primary ballot.

“We have wide racial and class disparities in health, longevity, education and employment,” Democratic Councilman Dale Miller said. “A simple renewal and replacement would probably not even keep us where we are, let alone enable us to get better.” 

The measure would extend the life of the levy for another eight years. If passed, the issue would increase tax bills by $41.58 per $100,000 of property value, raising an additional $35 million for health and human services, according to the county.

Republicans Nan Baker and Jack Schron voted against sending the levy to voters, saying County Executive Armond Budish’s administration hadn’t demonstrated that the additional programs would work.

“I am not convinced that the programs presented are fiscally responsible or proven,” Baker said, “especially given that we will be managing the millions of dollars that we will be receiving from the opiate lawsuit settlement.”

Baker, Schron and fellow Republican Michael Gallagher had supported asking voters to decide on a more modest property tax increase, but that proposal died in committee last week. On Tuesday night, Gallagher voted to send the larger levy to the ballot, saying the decision should be up to voters.

The county plans to spend $6 million in annual levy proceeds on a kinship care program in the Department of Children and Family Services, placing kids with extended family members. 

The county would support its universal preschool program with $5 million from the levy annually. Another $2.5 million would help establish a diversion center refer people to mental health or addiction treatment rather than jail.  Read a full breakdown of the county’s spending plans here.

The administration warned earlier in the year that the county’s health and human services levy fund is close to running out of money. The rising number of children in foster care has contributed to the cost increases,  county officials said

Council voted Tuesday to shore up the deficit with $15 million from the general fund. Even after the cash infusion, the HHS levy fund will close 2019 with only $3.2 million remaining,  according to the county Office of Budget and Management — just 1 percent of total expenditures. County code requires an ending cash balance of at least 10 percent.

The county levies two different property taxes for health and human services, the 3.9-mill levy headed to the ballot next year and a 4.8-mill levy up for renewal in 2024. The ballot issue would increase the smaller levy by 0.8 mills to 4.7 mills. 

Together, the two levies will bring in about $239 million this year, the county projects.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.