The Washington County Children Services board plans to move forward with placing a levy on the November ballot, after a meeting Thursday where nearly 50 community members said they supported the effort.
The 2.2 mill, 10-year levy would raise $2,360,025 annually for the agency. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $67.39 a year.
Those invited to the meeting were community leaders and business owners. Many of them have toured the building in recent weeks and viewed a PowerPoint presentation that outlines what the agency does and the challenges it is facing. The PowerPoint presentation was shown again during the meeting Thursday.
Board members had said they wanted community input and support before making a decision about the issue.
Tonya Kidder, a foster care case worker with the agency, thanked those in attendance for their support, saying she was "overwhelmed" by it.
"I think that I not only speak for myself, but for the rest of the employees that are here when I say we don't want to just provide the minimum services for our families and kids. We feel like the kids and families of this county deserve more and we want to give 110 percent and go above and beyond," she said.
Belpre resident Jack Brown, 85, was among those who indicated support for a levy during the meeting.
"If we don't take care of the kids, we're finished," he said. "What do you want them to do, quit? You can only do so much with so much money."
Money raised through the tax levy would be used for operational costs and for the reinstatement of the School Outreach and Prevention Program (SOPP), a federally funded program was abolished in July 2009.
Officials with the agency said the tax levy is needed because funding cuts have been made in recent years at the national, state and local levels.
According to figures provided during Thursday's meeting, the agency received $2,019,149 in funding last year from federal, state and county sources, as well as others, such as grants and donations. That is down from $2,127,521 in 2010 and $2,297,578 in 2009.
"Try to figure out your budget and try to figure out how to plan on doing a year's worth of work and not know what you're getting...you can't do that," Children Services board member Jim Vuksic said to those at the meeting. "You have to have some constant and that's what we're asking for."
The levy money would allow for raises to be given to employees each of the next 10 years and it would also allow for traditional foster families to be given $28 a day to help offset the cost of food, clothing and other necessities. They are currently given $20 per day, a rate that has been in place since 1994.
Vuksic pointed out that the budget projections for the next 10 years do not include any county funds.
"This will help our county and at the same time help our children and I don't see how that can be wrong," he said.
The board hasn't voted on pursuing a levy but Vuksic said members have agreed to do so.
If the levy passes, the agency would also be able to hire 10 additional people, taking its staff count to 43. Seven people would work under the School Outreach and Prevention Program in local school districts, while one person would be designated as the prevention and diversion supervisor.
The School Outreach and Prevention Program served 624 children in 2007, 623 children in 2008 and 310 children in 2009, before it was abolished. It targeted children at risk of academic failure, abuse or neglect, negative psychological outcomes and risks of future drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, delinquency or school drop out.
LeAnn Bates served as a prevention specialist when the program was in place. She currently works for the agency as a clinical counselor. She said she mourns the loss of the prevention program because it benefited families as a whole.
"These kids are so worried about what's going on at home, whether they're going to get fed, whether they're going to get beat...and we're trying to get them to study spelling words - it's not going to happen," she said.
Children Services is responsible for investigating abuse and neglect, accepting custody of children, providing ongoing social services to families and finding and certifying foster homes. It reunifies families when it is determined to be safe to do so.
The agency receives an average of 1,800 reports a year or 150 a month and responds in some manner to each of them. It is one of 23 accredited children services agencies in the state.
It has never placed a tax levy on the ballot, although nearly half the state's children service agencies do receive tax levy money.