Committee releases draft report on creating Children’s Services Council in Leon County

TaMaryn Waters | Tallahassee Democrat

Nov 01, 2019

Source: Tallahassee Democrat

A new draft report lays out a dozen recommendations for creating a tax-funded Children’s Services Council in Leon County pending voter approval in November 2020. 

Since September 2018, the Leon County CSC Planning Committee has met monthly and pored over reams of research and heard numerous presentations leading up its 25-page report, serving as a blueprint for potential priorities, governance and funding.

The 21-member Planning Committee landed on three general priority areas: success in school and life; healthy children and families; and stable and nurturing families and communities. The report also includes a breakdown of how Leon County compares to Florida based on selected indicators of community health.  

In Leon County, more children are arrested in and out of school, are prone to hunger and twice as likely to be treated for a bacterial-based sexually transmitted disease, according to the report. 

The committee’s report shows no leanings on whether a CSC should be created, said Second Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Jonathan Sjostrom, who oversees juvenile dependency cases and chairs the committee. 

“It looks to me like a pretty accurate summary of the work the committee has done and the work that the committee has received,” Sjostrom said. “The facts are pretty straight forward, and the community has to decide. (The report) is really an effort to be fair and objective.”

The Planning Committee’s next meeting will be the public’s last opportunity to offer input before recommendations are finalized and presented to the County Commission. The committee meets at 9 a.m. Nov. 8 at the Tallahassee Community College Ghazvini Center for Healthcare Education, 1528 Surgeons Drive. The committee will sunset on Dec. 31.  

If created in Leon County, a council would decide its focus areas based on broad-brush guidelines spelled out in the statute. It could impose a property tax rate of up to half a mill or $42 per $100,000 in taxable property value per year — representing up to $8 million per year.

Supporters say a dedicated funding stream to address mounting children’s issues is long overdue while critics are dubious a CSC will make a difference. Others see a CSC launch as wasteful government spending. 

A Children’s Services Council in Leon County — a notion that failed to pass in a 1990 special election — was resurrected in March 2018 by then-County Commissioner John Dailey, now serving as Tallahassee’s mayor. 

From the private to nonprofit sectors, the idea of a local council split the community and many pushed for a 2018 ballot initiative, a move some viewed as hasty and misguided. County commissioners decided to allow a 2020 ballot initiative and the creation of an advisory Planning Committee. 

Nine Children’s Services Council exist statewide.

Launched in 1945, the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County is the oldest and The Children’s Trust of Alachua launched in November 2018, making it the newest. The Florida Children’s Council reports an average annual cost to taxpayers of $25 to $80, depending on the county.

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