Children Services, WRTA ask community to support levies
By Justin Wier
Mahoning County voters will decide whether to approve two levies on Election Day – one to help Children Services cope with an increasing number of young victims of the opioid epidemic, and the other to allow the Western Reserve Transit Authority to continue providing public transit services.
Randall Muth, executive director of Mahoning County Children Services, said the levy passage is essential to protecting children from the effects of the opioid epidemic.
“It is the children who are left as the invisible, vulnerable, voiceless victims of circumstances beyond their control,” Muth said. “These are the children who find themselves living in – and lingering in – foster care when their parents are in recovery, relapse or die.”
The agency experienced a 33.7 percent increase in child-abuse and neglect investigations from 833 in the first half of 2016 to 1,114 in the first half of 2017, and a 70 percent increase in children placed outside their homes from 27 to 46.
In addition to the increase in demand, Muth said children with parents addicted to opioids often require more complex interventions.
Children services is asking voters for a five-year replacement levy, which would assess the existing half-mill real-estate tax levy at current property values instead of 1983 values when voters initially approved the levy.
The levy currently costs the owner of a $100,000 home $10.15 annually. The replacement levy would increase the annual cost by $7.35 to $17.50.
This would increase the levy’s revenue from $1.3 million to $2 million.
Voters have renewed the levy continually since 1983. Muth said the agency is grateful for the community’s support and generosity.
Meanwhile, the WRTA asks voters to renew its existing quarter-mill sales-tax levy on a continuing basis. Voters first approved the levy in 2008 and renewed it in 2012.
If a consumer purchased a $10,000 car in Mahoning County, the levy would add $25 in taxes.
The sales tax represents the largest source of revenue for WRTA. It raised $8.7 million in 2016, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation. WRTA’s budget is just over $12 million, executive director Jim Ferraro said.
“I can’t make any bones about it. Without the sales-tax contribution, we would not be able to stay in business,” Ferraro said.
The agency believes the sales tax is more equitable than property tax because it’s paid by all county residents, he said.
The levy provides local matching funding that allows WRTA to receive state and federal funds.
While federal funds have remained stable, Ferraro said state contributions have declined.
WRTA provides about 1.6 million rides per year, and about 40 percent are seniors or residents with disabilities, according to WRTA. The agency expects that number to grow as the median age in the county continues to increase.