By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
For 30 years, the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services has relied on voters to provide funds to protect local children and seniors. This year will be no different.
There have been times when expenses and needs are lower, that the voters have been given a break and the levy has gone uncollected for a year. But that is unlikely to occur again anytime soon considering the most recent increase in abuse and neglect reports.
“They are on a record pace for child abuse and neglect complaints,” said Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar.
It doesn’t help that Ohio is “dead last” among the states for funding of child protective services, according to Dave Wigent, director of Wood County Department of Job and Family Services. Even if Ohio were to double its spending for child services, the state will still be last, he said.
“We’re forced to support with levy funding from the local level,” Wigent said.
“We’re in an embarrassing situation for child welfare support,” he said.
Also not helping is the uncertainty of the federal budget. If the cuts were to proceed as proposed by President Donald Trump, child abuse and neglect funding would be slashed further. “It would have a devastating effect on us here,” Wigent said.
Wigent presented his request to put the renewal 1.3-mill levy on the November ballot this year to the Wood County Commissioners. The commissioners gave the levy request their verbal blessing, and will have staff prepare a resolution to get it on the ballot, Kalmar said.
The millage, to be collected for 10 years, will raise an estimated $3.7 million annually.
During the last 10-year period, there have been two years when the levy was not collected at all, and two other years when just half of the millage was collected.
“We only take the money that we need,” Wigent said.
Kalmar said the commissioners talked briefly about reducing the millage going on the ballot. But there were several concerns. “We try not to confuse voters,” he said, noting that even if the levy were to be reduced it could not be labeled a “renewal” levy.
Plus, the commissioners realize the needs are frequently changing. “We don’t believe the millage is excessive,” Kalmar said. “It’s better to not collect the existing levy than try to guess ahead.”
And the likelihood of needing the full amount this year is quite high, Wigent said. Both child and adult protective services have seen an increase in cases. Last year saw the most child abuse and neglect cases ever in the county, and 2017 “is trending even bigger.” Some of the increase is related to the opioid epidemic, he said.
“With our increased volume and costs, we’ll be running tighter,” Wigent said. “We appreciate the community support – and we’ll only take what we need.”