Voters guide to the Leon County Children’s Services Council referendum
TaMaryn Waters | Tallahassee Democrat
Oct 19, 2020
After two years of intense community debate, voters will decide in November whether now is the time to impose a new property tax aimed at addressing children’s issues.
A proposed referendum to launch a Leon County Children’s Services Council has been met with both sweeping support and sharp scrutiny.
Here’s a snapshot of what voters should know.
What’s a Children’s Services Council?
It’s a special taxing district with the power to levy ad valorem taxes no greater than .5 mills. Florida has nine independent CSCs, and if approved by voters, Leon County would be the 10th.
Created in 1945, the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County is the oldest. The newest CSC to be created was the The Children’s Trust of Alachua in Nov. 2018.
By Florida statute, CSCs generate revenue to tackle children’s issues tailored to individual counties. Each one has a 12-year lifespan that goes before voters for renewal.
They are managed by either a 33-member or 10-member council; the latter is proposed for Leon County.
The local option calls for five statutorily mandated members, including the Leon County Schools superintendent, a school board member, a Department of Children and Families district administrator, a county commissioner and a judge assigned to juvenile cases. The governor appoints the remaining five members.
In April 2018, Lee County commissioners opted to not allow a referendum to go on the November ballot to create a Children’s Services Council, while Orange County commissioners decided a needs assessment was in order before going to a referendum (Leon County Commission did the same thing in 2018).
What will a CSC do in Leon County?
Specifics aren’t clear at this time — a gnawing detail that fuels criticism.
A Leon County CSC Planning Committee finalized its recommendations in a 118-page report in 2019. The report does not advocate for or against the proposal.
Instead, it outlines areas of concern surrounding local children, including arrests, infant mortality and school readiness and potential consequences if left unchecked. The report offered three general priority areas: success in school and life; healthy children and families; and stable and nurturing families and communities.
Keeping things general, it said, allows a CSC to work from a road map provided by the now disbanded planning committee. The Leon County CSC would finetune and execute the plan. An executive director would be hired to drive the plan forward.
What’s on the table for Leon County?
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.
If approved, a Leon County CSC will begin receiving money in November or December of 2021.
What proponents say
Main points: Supporters say Leon County is approaching a tipping point that warrants intervention.
They say the COVID-19 pandemic is only making current conditions worse for children in need. In addition, as Florida looks to improve its workforce for the future, an increasing number of business leaders say early intervention is paramount in helping children success in school. Business and community leaders also are calling for more targeted efforts to reduce youth violence by tackling the root causes. Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.
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Endorsements: They include the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce, Capital City Chamber of Commerce, United Way of the Big Bend, United Partners for Human Services, Whole Child Leon and Institute for Nonprofit Innovation and Excellence.
What opponents say
Critics: They include the Network of Entrepreneurs & Business Advocates and a loosely formed grassroots group called the “No Blank Check Committee,” consisting of concerned citizens.
COVID-19 pandemic: While Leon County’s 5.6% unemployment rate in August is an improvement from July’s 8.5%, critics say businesses are hurting.
They say a pandemic is an absurd time to raise taxes and voice sustained concern over how new tax revenue will be effective, adding efforts to address children’s issues can be achieved with existing groups or revenue sources.
To view the full news story by Tallahassee Democrat, visit https://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/tlhelections2020/2020/10/03/voters-guide-leon-county-childrens-services-council-referendum/3491965001/