By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
As the numbers of child and elder abuse grow in Wood County, so does the need for county residents to support the levy renewal that provides funding to protect those vulnerable populations.
On Tuesday, the Wood County Commissioners signed a resolution putting the 1.3-mill child and adult protective services levy renewal on the November ballot. The millage, to be collected for 10 years, will raise an estimated $3.7 million annually.
The levy renewal effort comes at a time when the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services is seeing record numbers of child abuse investigations. It’s expected the county will investigate at least as many cases as last year – when the numbers jumped 25 percent to 894.
“We anticipate having about as many as 2016, which set the all time record. Maybe a little higher,” said Dave Wigent, director of the county Job and Family Services.
In addition to the increasing number, the county is also seeing an increase in the severity of the abuse cases – requiring that more children be placed in foster care. The overall increased cost of Children’s Services last year was about $500,000, Wigent said.
So losing the levy funds that the county has relied on since 1987 would cripple the ability to provide child and adult protective services, he added.
“It would be catastrophic for our child welfare and adult protective services,” Wigent said.
The levy revenue makes up 90 percent of the adult protective services budget, he said. And loss of the levy would mean reductions in Children’s Services staff. “That would be at a time we are seeing record cases,” he said.
Wigent stressed that the levy is not new money being requested of taxpayers. “It’s not a new tax,” he said.
He also reminded that over the 30 years of the levy, there have been six times when the county has decided to not collect the full amount since it has not been needed.
“We only take the money we need,” Wigent said. Wood County Job and Family Services may be the only department in the state to do that, he added.
During the last 10-year period, there have been two years when the levy millage was not collected at all, and two other years when just half of the millage was collected.
Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said earlier this year that 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.”
It doesn’t help that Ohio is “dead last” among the states for funding of child protective services, according to Wigent. Even if Ohio were to double its spending for child services, the state will still be last, 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.