MANSFIELD - While Richland County voters were casting ballots in Tuesday's primary election, county commissioners were taking the first of two actions to put a levy on the November ballot.
Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution asking the county auditor to certify the amount of money that would be raised annually by a 10-year, 1-mill replacement operating levy for Children Services.
The levy was first approved in 1999, was most recently renewed in 2008, and currently raises $1.7 million. If approved, the replacement levy would update the existing 1.0 mill issue to reflect current property values and cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $11 more per year in taxes.
Children Services also has a second 1-mill levy that was approved as a replacement in 2013. Together the levies raise $3.5 million, or about 36 percent of operating revenue.
Agency fiscal officer Kevin Goshe told commissioners that the levy expires at the end of 2019 and this fall is the first opportunity to put it on the ballot. He said the additional revenue is needed to cover skyrocketing costs of foster care placements.
"The numbers (of children) as of March are a little more than double than in 2010," Goshe said. "Foster care per day costs are about five times what they were in 2010 or $5,893 per day for the 116 children in foster homes or residential settings as of March."
Children Services director Patty Harrelson said the main reason for the increases is the nationwide opioid crisis.
"Aunts, uncles and grandparents also are addicted. It's not just parents anymore," she said. "We also have a number of kids who have delinquency issues in juvenile court that are high dollar, high placement, who need care and services until they're 18 or even past emancipation."
Harrelson estimated that 40 to 45 percent of the children are in custody because of drug-related issues and said the agency case load also includes children involved in domestic violence or gross neglect. Another 135 to 200 children are in kinship care with relatives, some of whom receive payments from federal poverty programs and others who cover the cost themselves.
"A lot of people assume aunts, uncles and grandparents are getting financial help when, in fact, they may not be," Commissioner Marilyn John said.
Harrelson also pointed out that Children Services has helped hold down costs by eliminating 22 employees since 2000, including a number of administrative positions.
In other business Tuesday, commissioners voted to go ahead this year with about half of some $1.4 million worth of accumulated maintenance projects and put off the rest until at least 2019. They also agreed to pay for the work with $455,000 remaining in a county reinvestment fund created in 2011 and $211,000 in funds received above what was certified in a state reimbursement for sales taxes lost in a federal decision involving managed care organizations.
Late last month, commissioners discussed the projects that have been put on hold or come up since a 2008 budget turn down created by the recession, as well as financing options, with maintenance director Chuck Minich. Projects that will be done this year include replacing two boilers and an elevator hoist, and doing some paving at the courthouse; roof coating and replacing HVAC units and controls at Child Support Services; paving patching at Job and Family Services and the engineer's office; tuck pointing at the county garage; paving at the Longview building; and partial roof coating at the Juvenile Justice Center.
Commissioners had discussed a number of funding options that ranged from short term notes paid back with utility savings from a lighting upgrade, increasing rent for non-general fund agencies in county-owned buildings, and using part of a general fund carryover balance projected this year.
"We've just invested a lot of money and have not used general fund money, which is what I think the taxpayers would like us to do," said Commissioner Tony Vero. "I know it's been really tight but we need to think about setting aside money for capital (projects) every year as in a budget line item."