PORTSMOUTH—On Thursday, Scioto County Commissioners voted to expand an upcoming tax levy which would provide millions of dollars to Scioto County Children’s Services as it struggles to accommodate backlogged cases and a higher number of children in residential placement.
Commissioners Cathy Coleman, Bryan Davis, and Chairman Scottie Powell unanimously voted to proceed with the submission of the expanded tax levy to Ohio electors. The original levy, which would have allocated one million dollars to Scioto County Children’s Services (CPS), has replaced the original one million dollars and added two more, for a total of three million dollars.
“Current funding level is basically for 130 kids,” Powell explained. “We’ve had roughly 360 in [CPS] care. That number will be going down as this backlog is cleared out. The main driver of this levy is for the housing costs for children in care.”
Commissioners also expect the burden of costs to decrease as CPS moves from its present location in New Boston to the Scioto County Job & Family Services (JFS) site, which is across from the Scioto County Courthouse. Not only will caseworkers be left with more time as their commute to court will be diminished, but mileage costs are expected to greatly decrease.
Commissioners were careful to note that as the burdened backlog of children under the care of the agency catches up, the amount of necessary funds could be reduced in the future.
“I think its important to expound on that this can be reduced in the future. Bottom line is that it’s all about finances. When you go from 130 [children in CPS care] to 365, yes they’re working on the problem, yes they’re working to get kids in permanency, and yes we have those kids who are past the two-year mark. The wheels of justice never turn quickly, and there are procedures being put in place to start that permanent custody process sooner,” Davis explained.
Commissioners were also careful to note that the children of Scioto County would still need this critical service even if the levy does not pass in November, meaning that other services provided from the Commissioners’ general fund would likely be impacted should the levy fail.
“If the levy would fail, that money has to come from somewhere, and it comes from general funds. This year, we did have ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act of 2021] funds available to help get through the windfall this year. That was 2 million dollars, I think there’s about $600,000 that we have not shifted from ARPA to cover that just yet—it will happen, but ARPA is one-time money. It actually all has to be allocated by the end of next year, so there’s not even an option to hold onto it,” Powell explained.
“Our decision is to start looking across the county at some of the services you enjoy: Start looking at public safety, start looking at transportation—literally we’d have to go to every office holder and say ‘what do we have to do to get to the bare bones necessity?’ We would be asking all office holders to evaluate their services within office and then figure out a percentage of budget to cut. That’s the very real reality of what we would be dealing with [should the levy fail],” he added.
During the Commissioners’ July 21st meeting, Prosecutor Shane Tieman, Director of JFS Tamela Morton, and Director of CPS Jason Mantell all spoke at length regarding the hardships faced by the agency during its period of transition.
Powell said that the hardships faced by the agency and the children within its care have been very public over the last year, as CPS combined with JFS and the Commissioners to deliver the bulk of services to children and adults in vulnerable populations.
“We know the system is strained, but there’s always opportunity for improvement,” Powell said at the July 21st meeting. “I’ve been encouraged by the collaboration between CPS, JFS, the Prosecutor’s Office [and] Judge Lemons. I don’t think a lot of people truly understand that this process touches multiple areas. If one area is in a backlog, it slows down the whole system. The collaboration and communication has been encouraging, and I know it will continue.”
The July 28th meeting saw support for the levy not only from Commissioners, but from citizens as well. Collin Docterman, Vernon Township resident and Chair of the Scioto County Democratic Party, attended the meeting to offer bipartisan support of the issue.
“I am a foster parent myself,” Docterman said. “The reason I say that is because it’s something I’m passionate about. I also know that Rodney Barnett, my counterpart in the Republican party, is passionate about it. I would like to offer that olive branch—if there’s anything to work together on, it would be our children. Maybe he and I can put out heads together and see how we can get this [levy] across the finish line, as far as putting the education out there that’s needed.”
Powell doubled down on Docterman’s sentiment, stating that “Children’s Services is not a republican issue, it’s not a democratic issue. It’s a children’s safety issue. As a county we will either make the decision that we want to protect our children, or we will make the decision that we don’t. In terms of the Commissioners and the people on this side of the table, we’ll make sure it’s done one way or the other. But the decisions get a lot harder if the citizens turn down a levy. But we will take care of kids.”
Follow the Scioto County Commissioners on Facebook to view recordings and livestreams of their weekly meetings, and for more updates. Commissioners meet every Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at the Scioto County Courthouse.