Hamilton County commissioners put child services levy renewal on ballot

Posted at 12:52 PM, Jul 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-27 12:52:36-04

CINCINNATI — Voters will be asked this fall to renew the 2.77 mill levy that partially funds the Child Services Division of Hamilton County Job and Family Services.

The Hamilton County Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to put the levy renewal on the ballot, which accounted for about 41 percent of the agency’s $87.3 million in revenue in 2015. State and federal dollars also fund CSD.

“[CSD’s] mission is critical,” Commissioner Dennis Deters said. “It’s one of the most important things we do as a government.”

Deters, who made the motion to put the renewal on the ballot, said that because of the rising number of children being placed into foster care due to parental opioid addiction, a thorough review of the agency’s levy in 2018 would be “imperative.”

“At this point we’re facing some unprecedented challenges and some significant unknowns,” Deters said.

That motion passed after Commissioner Todd Portune’s motion to replace the existing 2.77 levy with a 3.01 mill levy failed.

“The public is not afraid of spending money on things that are priorities and are critically important,” Portune said, citing Hamilton County voters’ 2014 decision to raise sales taxes by 0.25 percent to fund renovations at Union Terminal.

Portune argued that the time for an increase to the levy is now, stating that it would address “critical adjustments that have been waiting far too long.”

According to a May report commissioned by the Hamilton County Tax Levy Review Committee, between 2011 and 2015, out-of-home (or foster) care was the department’s biggest line item, with an average yearly expense of about $31 million. Out-of-home care increased in cost by 37 percent during that five-year span, with a yearly average growth rate of 8.2 percent.

Staff and operations cost CSD an average of $19.8 million over that same span, increasing at a rate of about 4.4 percent per year.

“The implications of these two increasing line items are that these expenses could rapidly overwhelm the agency in the medium-term,” according to the report. “As an example, should CSD not evaluate and control out-of-home care costs, by 2021, assuming constant case growth, these costs could be over $55M dollars — an increase of $18.9 million, and over half of the current HCJFS budget.”