Voters arriving at an East Toledo Family Center-hosted levy forum Wednesday wanted to find reasons why they should support seven levies on the November 6 ballot.
Representatives for each of the Toledo and Lucas County levies were on hand as Press Newspapers General Manager John Szozda moderated.
The common theme heard was that levy collections are being negatively impacted by property reevaluations and reduced state replacement dollars, plus state and federal allocations have been reduced.
When asked why people should vote for the issues, even though unemployment is high, property values are down, and discretionary income is down, the response was that when a community sees recession, the need for these kinds of services are in greater demand.
“Even more importantly, when times are tough, the stress on families becomes significant,” said long time Lucas County Children’s Services executive director Dean Sparks. “We are seeing higher numbers of kids being abused. We relate that specifically to the economic conditions, and we see the same thing with things like substance abuse.”
Toledo-Lucas County Public Library deputy director Margaret Danziger said, “There is a saying, ‘Cutting or limiting library resources during a recession is like cutting a hospital.’ It doesn’t make sense. Some are very desperate and we are the only place where they can come and use computers or get training.”
Parks and Rec levy
Levy promoter Josh Thurston said that if Issue 5 passes, it would bring the City of Toledo in line with surrounding communities by having a separate fund for parks and recreation. The levy would generate $3 million a year for 10 years.
“You know that our city parks are in decline,” Thurston said. “Good parks equal good neighborhoods, and good neighborhoods equal a good city.”
He said the levy, which would cost the average homeowner $20 a year, could mean re-opening swimming pools and bringing back athletic leagues. If it doesn’t pass, it would mean grass not being cut and continued poor maintenance of parks.
Thurston said if it does pass, it could mean more jobs for lifeguards and possibly individuals involved in administration of recreation activities. It also could mean reopening Ravine and Collins park pools.
“One of our biggest priorities will be the pools,” Thurston said. “One of the great things about this is the money will be allocated to the district council people — all the council people will delegate the funds.
“We are hoping to bring back recreational activities for the kids — baseball leagues, softball leagues, and basketball leagues,” Thurston continued. “It’s a more sensible way to fund our parks — a sensible way to fund our city. The first thing the city does when it needs funds it takes away from our parks, and if our parks are an eyesore, our city is an eyesore.”
The library’s 2.9 mill operating levy (Issue 23) will replace an existing 2.0 mill levy that expires at the end of this year. The .9 increase (9/10s of a mill) will replace what users lost due to budget cuts of the past and would cost the owner of a $100,000 home less than eight cents per day.
Last year, the library saw three million visitors and circulated seven million items, plus an outreach center saw over 1,000 visits. Yet, Danziger said they have cut hours, cut staff, and if the levy does not pass, could end up closing branches.
“Yet, business is still booming,” Danziger said. “We hope that you will help in keeping our business booming.”
Danziger said the levy provides 50 percent of funding, and not having that would be “devastating.”
The Lucas County Mental Health and Recovery Services 1.0 mill levy (Issue 24) will cost the owner of a $100,000 home $2.53 per month. It is the board’s first new funding request in 24 years.
The board funds 17 community-based agencies to provide a continuum of preventions, treatments, and recovery support services. Robert Kasprzak, Manager of Prevention and Special Projects, says 97 cents of every dollar received supports patient services, such as treatment for mental health disorders, suicide interventions for children and youth and prevention services.
“We basically have the whole spectrum,” Kasprzak said, adding that failure of the levy would affect all 17 agencies.
“As you know, mental health affects a lot of areas in Lucas County. If the levy is not passed, we will deal only with people with the most several mental health problems. We like to catch that before it gets worse and turns into a crisis,” Kasprzak continued. “We are working with people who really don’t have the money to pay for that. We do know people who are in treatment, and they stabilize.”
The board’s services handle life-threatening psychiatric emergencies for 4,000 county residents who will be able to seek community-based crisis services. More than 700 Lucas County residents will be able to obtain or remain in housing and avoid homelessness through board funded providers.
Kasprzak said one in four Lucas County residents seek mental health treatment, but many receive it through health insurance or can afford it.
More than 24,300 residents receive treatment from Lucas County mental health services, avoiding more costly hospital admissions and stabilizing families. Offenders receiving sustained treatment are seven times less likely to be re-arrested. Lucas County residents remaining in treatment are 21 times more likely to be employed.
Sparks says in one year, Children’s Services saw 10,000 children who were facing abuse or some other crisis. About 700 children a year have to removed from their homes and into permanent custody with other families, and he says those numbers are increasing each year.
“That really is quite a big problem,” Sparks said.
The LCCS request (Issue 25) is a renewal for their 1.0 mill levy passed in 2008, with an increase. The 1.0 mill levy expires at the end of 2013. Collection on the 1.85 mill levy would begin in 2014. The owner of a $75,000 home would pay $19.52 per year.
Should the levy not pass, Sparks said the impact on the budget could affect youth in LCCS custody who have serious behavior problems, including those who are delinquent, unruly or ruled incompetent to stand trial. It could also affect pending state human trafficking legislation that would make LCCS and other children’s services organizations responsible for juvenile human trafficking victims.
Cost-saving measures already employed by LCCS include the Kinship Subsidy Program, which has reduced financial support to help families pay for kin, 25 staffing positions have been eliminated by attrition, there have been no increases in two years to non-bargaining unit salaried staffers, and the LCCS is limiting personnel cost increases by adjusting contracts through the collective bargaining process.
Imagination Station executive director Lori Hauser says the existing levy will enhance the science center’s educational reach.
Issue 26 is not a new tax, but a renewal of the Imagination Station’s existing five-year property tax levy. The levy costs $3.91 per $75,000 in residential value annually.
Funds generated by the existing levy totaled approximately $1.25 million in 2012 and represented about a third of the science center’s annual budget. Renewal funds would not be released to the Imagination Station until after the initial levy is exhausted in 2013.
Hauser said the center sees 500,000 visitors per year, but stressed that in a recent study, it was found the United States finished 18th in science courses. Thus, the need to “get kids interested in science now,” Hauser said.
The center has partnered with corporations to fund school visits, but levy failure could mean shutting traveling exhibits and cutting staff.
Part of the 0.9 mill Metroparks of the Toledo Area levy (Issue 21) will be offset because a 0.3 mill levy is expiring, Communications Director Scott Carpenter said.
“This levy is about taking care of what we’ve got and finishing what we’ve started,” Carpenter explained.
“In short, the levy is needed to stop what we see as a slow decline because of financial cutbacks. In the past few years, we have lost 10 full-time employees. If we continue to cut back, we’ll have to defer maintenance and capital improvements, which will only become more costly in the future. This levy will help us maintain the parks as people have come to expect,” Carpenter continued.
The district has nine Metroparks and 11,000 acres to maintain. Director Dave Zenk said that the “board feels very strongly, and every national statistic talks about, the importance of quality of life. We are on track to seeing three million visitors and those kinds of things represent a value to the community.”
Carpenter added, “Keeping the parks open every day of the year, in good condition, with ranger patrols and no admission fee is our primary focus. We feel that we deliver a high value for the cost. This year we expect to have up to three million visitors, so the Metroparks collectively are one of the most-used institutions in Lucas County. According to community surveys, the Metroparks are highly valued as community assets.”
Carpenter said the levy would cost the owner of a $75,000 home $20.67 a year.