Voters gave a green light to a Leon County Children’s Services Council and an accompanying property tax in Tuesday’s general election.
The ballot referendum, which needed 50 percent to pass, received 65.7%, or 100,357 of the 152,459 votes cast.
Jon Moyle, chairman of the Our Kids First Political Action Committee, said the community was well informed and decided to make an investment in local children.
“It’s worked well in other communities, so I’m optimistic that it will make a difference,” Moyle said.
Leon County will be the 10th CSC in the state. Local residents will pay a new 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.
The local CSC will begin generating funds in November or December of 2021.
Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil thanked residents for “seeing the need that we have in our community.”
McNeil, a staunch supporter, believes a local CSC will ultimately reduce crime among children and teenagers. He’s been “sometimes embarrassed” while traveling the state and knowing many local children weren’t reading at grade level or prepared to enter kindergarten.
“That just puts that child on a trajectory towards going into a lifestyle that’s not healthy for that child and not healthy for our community,” McNeil said. “If we aren’t successful on the front end with our kids, on the back end, in a few years, I would probably have to approach the County Commission to build a larger detention facility. So, I am really excited about the prospects of not doing that.”
For two years, the CSC proposal divided the community as residents on both sides of the issue disagreed on whether a new tax was an effective way to help local children.
The move gained support from power brokers, including the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce and nonprofit advocacy groups, leading up to the election.
Advocates stressed more resources and funds are needed to improve the often bleak conditions involving children, including the alarming number of children who aren’t ready for kindergarten when they begin public school.
A Planning Committee, which took no position on the proposal, spent nearly two years researching how CSCs operate throughout the state and presented a blueprint for Leon County if voters approved the amendment.
The committee presented general priority areas: success in school and life; healthy children and families; and stable and nurturing families and communities.
Opponents, including City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow and County Commissioner Bill Proctor, believed existing funds could be prioritized to direct more money toward children’s issues instead of create a new property tax.
“The voters have spoken,” Matlow said. “I hope the City and County Commissions are listening closely that the people of Tallahassee want better outcomes for their children.”
In addition, critics said now was an absurd time to impose a new tax amid a raging COVID-19 pandemic and economic uncertainty. Many businesses, they said, are struggling and the new tax could tip them over the edge and cause more closures.
Emily Fritz, a frequent critic of the CSC measure, commended advocates in their efforts to gain support for ballot initiative.
“They were very well organized so I’ve got to give them credit for that,” Fritz said. “We look forward to following the actions of the Children’s Services Council to ensure it produces results to improve the lives of children and be a good steward of taxpayer dollar.”
What happens next?
The first step in creating the CSC starts with County Commission.
On Nov. 17, an agenda item will go before commissioners to begin the application process, said County Administrator Vince Long.
By state statute, commissioners will select 15 potential applicants that will be sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’ll whittle the pool down to five appointees. The County Commission will also need to select one of its members to serve on the CSC.
Those five will serve with the remaining appointees designated by the state statute to serve on the 10-member council, including a Leon County School board member, the Leon County Schools superintendent and a judge assigned to juvenile cases.
Long said the application process will likely begin on Nov. 17 and end in January.
“We think that works with the timelines for the CSC to produce their plan,” he said.
However, the timeline could vary. For example, it took nearly a year for the governor’s office to approve Alachua County commissioners nomination appointees, said Ginny Dailey, a Tallahassee attorney who spearheaded community outreach for the campaign.
“I just learned that yesterday,” Dailey said, a day after the election. “I will be sharing that information with our County Commission so that they understand that’s a slow process. From my perspective, the sooner we start that the better.”
The County Commission will have two new board members, which could impact the timeline. Carolyn Cummings won the at-large seat vacated by Commissioner Mary Ann Lindley. Brian Welch unseated longtime Commissioner Bryan Desloge.
An executive director also will need to be hired. However, Dailey said that position will likely come after appointees have been named and the CSC has time to convene.
Contact TaMaryn Waters at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @TaMarynWaters on Twitter.
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