By JIM MAURER
STAFF WRITER

Hancock County voters defeated a 1.2-mill property tax Tuesday that would have generated about $2.3 million a year for 10 years to fund child protective services, adult protective services, and child care programs overseen by the Hancock County Department of Job and Family Services.

Unofficial vote totals from the Hancock County Board of Elections were 4,962 in favor, or about 40.8 percent, and 7,193 against, or about 59.2 percent. The vote totals include absentee ballots.

“We are disappointed, but want to thank our supporters, (campaign) volunteers and contributors,” said Diana Hoover, director of Job and Family Services, “and we respect the decision of the voters.”

The cost for a $100,000 appraised (market value) residential property would have been $42 annually.

There was no organized opposition to the issue. A pro-levy group, the Hancock County Committee for the Protection of Children and Families, promoted the issue with advertisements, yard signs and fundraisers.

The next step will be discussions with the Hancock County commissioners to determine if a levy will be sought again in November, Hoover said Tuesday night.

Hoover said the agency’s funding need is “critical” as the department continues “to protect our most vulnerable population.”

Because of the high cost of foster care placement for children, combined with the number, complexity and length of placements, Hoover has said her agency’s budget for children’s services will run out by June.

The agency receives funds from federal and state sources that total about $1.2 million a year. Local funds totaling $525,000 cover part of the agency’s costs.

But the agency needs an estimated additional $553,105 to cover expenses just this year, according to the 2018 Children’s Protective Services budget.

Hoover has said she doesn’t think the county’s budget would be able to handle the costs of both Children’s Protective Services and Adult Protective Services in the long term, which was the reason the agency sought its first tax levy.

A property tax was sought instead of a sales tax because a sales tax goes into the county general fund, while a property tax can be earmarked for a specific agency.

The levy would have helped provide money for foster care placement costs, and for services related to foster homes, including transportation costs for doctor’s appointments for the children.

There are a low number of foster care placements in Hancock County, and children are being sent to Youngstown, a four-hour drive from Findlay, because that’s the closest certified foster care placement available.

Due to the complexity of their needs and the rising number of children, the costs to put Hancock County children in foster care increased by 56 percent between 2015 and 2017, according to the agency. The number of Hancock County children in foster care in 2015 was 72, and the number rose to 91 in 2017, a 22 percent increase.

The costs are rising faster than the number of children in care because some of the kids have severe developmental needs, stemming from being born addicted to opioids and living in homes with addicted parents. They also can have mental health problems and behavioral problems.

The Hancock County children with the most intensive special needs have had a placement cost of $450 a day, Hoover has said.

Hoover said the county has had as few as 35 children and as many as 72 kids in and out of foster care in a single month between 2009 and November 2017. The numbers fluctuate as some children stay in foster care for just a day, while others stay in foster care for months or years.

Levy money also would have gone to Adult Protective Services. Hancock County officials say the opiate epidemic is partly to blame for an increase in elder abuse during the past three years.

“I don’t think people realize how impactful the opioid crisis has been on older adults,” Hoover said before the election.

“The opiate crisis goes both ways, so more elderly people are being exploited, and/or physically harmed for money, because if somebody in their family has a substance abuse issue and they’re desperate, they sometimes don’t think clearly and do things that are harmful,” Hoover said.

Maurer: 419-427-8420
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