Northeast Ohio Counties Seeking Levies To Aid In Family, Child Services
Three Northeast Ohio counties are asking voters on March 17 to approve levies for child and family services.
Geauga and Portage counties are asking for a levy renewal, and Cuyahoga County is asking for a renewal and increase of its Health and Human Services levy.
Cuyahoga County’s proposed levy would replace a previous levy that was up for renewal and increase the amount by an additional $35 million dollars. Portage County is seeking a flat renewal.
The Geauga County levy covers staffing for the Department of Jobs and Family Services (JFS) and family assistance programs, including care and treatment for children in difficult or complex situations.
“They involve, oftentimes, cases of child abuse and neglect, or another term that’s called dependency, where a child is really in need of support from the county,” said Geauga JFS Executive Director Craig Swenson.
Geauga County has about 30 employees in the department working with families, Swenson said. Two levies support those efforts, he said, and bring in about $3.2 million annually. That funding also provides additional services through contracts and partnerships with other agencies, he said, such as parent-coaching through a local church.
“When it comes to issues in families that we’re involved with, sometimes they just need a little help and a little parent-coaching,” Swenson said.
If approved March 17, the renewal will last five years and generate about $1.5 million in funding annually. The second levy will be up for renewal in November.
Fifty-two Ohio counties have voted in favor of property tax levies for children’s services or a combined HHS levy in the past, said Public Children Services Association of Ohio Assistant Director Scott Britton. Many counties are still recovering from the combination of the last recession and the opioid crisis, he said.
“The state of child welfare is much better now than it has been,” Britton said. “However, we are still very much trying to stabilize from a crisis that was really probably a decade in the making.”
Overall, Ohio relies more heavily on local tax dollars to cover child welfare costs than any other state, Britton said. And the number of counties relying on levies has grown.
“We’ve seen a big increase in the number of counties, particularly in Northwest and Southeast Ohio that have successfully put levies on the ballot since the addiction epidemic took hold,” Britton said.
Many counties are facing a shortage of foster families, Britton said. Ohio has about 7,400 licensed foster homes to meet the needs of more than 16,000 children in care, he said. And many of those children have complex trauma, he said.
“We continue to see a lot of children coming into care, and unfortunately staying longer, and with more complex needs that demand often a higher level of placement that can be more costly,” Britton said.