What voters should know about the proposed Children's Services Fund Tax in Jackson County

Children's Services Fund Tax is on Nov. 8 ballot
Posted at 6:45 PM, Oct 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-05 19:47:08-04

Voters in Jackson County face multiple tax initiatives on the November ballot, including Question #2 – a 1/8 of 1-cent tax to create a Children’s Services Fund. The question reads:

“Shall Jackson County, solely for the purpose of establishing a Community Children’s Services Fund for the purpose of providing services to protect the well-being and safety of children and youth nineteen years of age or less and to strengthen families, be authorized to levy a countywide sales tax of one-eighth of one cent for a period of seven years?

This fund will be transparently administered in a manner independent of County government, by a diverse, geographically representative, nine-member citizen board appointed by the County Executive, with at least one member residing in each Jackson County legislative district. Revenues will be solely used to benefit the residents of Jackson County. Yes [ ] No [ ]”

Proponents said the revenue from the fund could add $15 million a year to help at-risk youth.

“The need far outweighs the resources available,” said Stepping Stone Director Lynn Durbin.

A 2014 Mid-America Regional Council study concluded 21,000 children and teens in the Kansas City metro area are turned away each year from mental health institutions, shelters and other social service programs due to a lack of funding to handle the volume.

“The number of kids in foster care in Jackson County is continuing to grow,” said Durbin. “More and more kids don’t have a place to sleep or shelter at night. They don’t have services. We see more crime. We see more substance abuse. Suicide is continuing to be a tremendous problem among this age group.”

If voters approve the tax, a penny will be given to the fund for every $8 spent in Jackson County. Estimates from the MARC study show the total investment in the fund to be about $25 per voter annually.

“It’s also an economic question,” said Durbin. “The return on investment is 11 to 1.”

The group behind the initiative, The Children’s Services Fund Coalition, is using a Benefit-Cost Model by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to make the claim that $1 spent on at-risk youth will save $11 in the future on substance abuse, criminal prosecution and other services no longer needed because of the early intervention.

“[Services] become very expensive. Lots of services that we’re paying a lot of money for that could be met further upstream,” said Durbin.

Supporters of the tax point to 8 other counties as examples of successful implementation of a Children’s Services Fund tax:

  • St. Charles County
  • St. Louis County
  • Boone County
  • Lafayette County
  • Jefferson County
  • St. Louis City
  • Lincoln County
  • Franklin County

Missouri Kids Count analyzes and ranks counties based on children’s services data.

St. Charles County was ranked #86 out of 114 counties in well-being of children in Missouri in 2004 when the county implemented a Children’s Services Fund tax. The county ranked #1 in the state in 2015. Jackson County is ranked #89.

Who would get the cash?

A board of citizens would be created by Jackson County’s Executive Officer and all revenue from the tax would be dispersed to Jackson County nonprofit organizations by the board.

Any nonprofit organization that serves children in the 10 areas of the fund can request funding. Those service areas are:

  • Temporary Shelter
  • Respite Care
  • Teen Mothers
  • Substance Abuse Treatment
  • Psychiatric Services
  • Transitional Living
  • Crisis Intervention
  • School Based Prevention
  • Home & School Based Intervention
  • Individual, Group & Family Counseling

Do taxpayers have an appetite for more tax?

The MARC study asked telephone respondents to rank their willingness to support the sales tax.

Forty-five percent were willing, 40 percent were not willing and 15 percent were neutral.