MARIETTA - If a Washington County Children Services tax levy is approved by voters in the November election the agency would join 45 others in the state that receive levy money.
It would be one of the few agencies, though, that receives an allocation from the county commissioners in addition to levy money.
According to Crystal Allen, executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, the majority of the state's children services agencies that receive levy money do not receive money from county commissioners.
"A few do receive some funds from their county commissioners and it all depends on the amount of the local levy," Allen said. "Often for a first levy we are looking at not putting a huge burden on the taxpayer that they're not used to and we may need some local GRF (general revenue funds) from the county commissioners."
Allen said local, state and federal government dollars are being stretched thin so it is becoming more common for children services agencies to seek levy funds and those agencies that already receive them rely on them heavily.
Officials with agencies that currently have a tax levy acknowledged that the money is vital in being able to provide necessary services.
When officials with Washington County Children Services initially proposed the levy it was presented as a 2.2-mill, 10-year levy that would raise $2,360,025 annually, with no funding coming from the commissioners.
Officials with the agency have since decided to accept funding from the commissioners if the levy passes and they lowered it to 1.46 mills. The 10-year levy would generate $1,599,337.28 annually, costing the owner of a $100,000 home $44.71 a year.
"The whole intent was to keep the millage down as low as we could," said Dave Copen, executive director of the agency. "You always hate to go to the homeowner...we're trying to hold the numbers down is what we're trying to do."
Copen added that the commissioners have said they will try to provide $765,000 a year if the levy passes, but they can't guarantee that would be provided. He said they are currently providing $755,000.
"Washington County has always provided funding for Children Services through the general fund," said Washington County Commissioner Tim Irvine. "By continuing this funding our goal is to reduce the amount of the levy request to the taxpayers."
The agency's overall budget is $2.3 million and it has a staff of 30 people plus three contractual employees. The agency receives an average of 1,800 reports a year or 150 a month and responds in some manner to each of them.
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 that was abolished in July 2009.
"The School Outreach and Prevention Program put social workers in the schools serving the at-risk children," Copen said. "These kids are identified early on and then what happens is they don't rise to the level of abuse and neglect at that point in time but they exhibit the symptoms of being at risk so you get to them early."
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.
"The last thing we want to do is run out and start hiring a bunch of people," Copen noted. "To restore the services that have been reduced, that's what the intent is."
Both the Athens and Guernsey County Children Services agencies have relied on tax levy money for several years and both have prevention programs. Neither agency receives funding from county commissioners.
"At this point 60 percent of our revenue comes from our two tax levies," said Athens County Children Services executive director Andrea Reik.
Reik added that officials with the agency modeled their prevention program after the one that used to be in place in Washington County. She said her agency started the program in 2005 and as of August the program will be implemented in all five of the county's school districts.
"And we're able to do parent education at a level we could not do without the support of the levy," she added.
Reik said the agency's budget is $7 million and 415 of 1,375 referrals were assigned for investigation last year.
Guernsey County Children Services, which has a budget of $3.4 million and employs 29 people, served 423 families last year, according to executive director Nicole Caldwell.
She said the agency's 2-mill, 10-year levy was originally put in place in the 1980s. She said the levy money is used to match state and federal dollars.
"The actual money we bring in is one-third of our budget but it actually amounts to between 70 and 80 percent of our total budget because of the match we're able to pull in because of the local funding," she said. "We're able to draw down more money because we have that local match. Without it we would be in a world of hurt."
Caldwell said there are 10 different programs administered under the agency's prevention program, including a shaken baby prevention program, a boot camp for new dads, a new mommy day camp and No Go Tell, a sexual abuse prevention program for children.
"With most state and federal money you can't purchase food or certain things like if we have an event where we invite the public to promote child abuse recognition," she added. "That local money as long as its going for protection of children we can use it for whatever we want to use it for."
Allen said each children services levy put before voters in the state in the past three and a half years have been approved.