GREAT PARKS LEVY

Resolution -- That the Cincinnatus Association endorse the Great Parks of Hamilton County levy, Issue _, to fund continued management and protection of Hamilton County Parks.

Issue:

Great Parks of Hamilton County operates 17,000 acres of parkland, including Sharon Woods, Winton Woods, and Miami Whitewater Forest among dozens of other parks, as well as nearly 80 miles of trails, and 40 linear miles of street and river shoreline. If passed this levy will allow Great Parks to continue offering its current level of services and programs including summer concerts and kid-friendly naturalist and fitness programs.

 

This is a 10 year 1 mill levy to replace the current 15 year1 mill levy that expires at the end of 2017. If passed this levy would rescind and replace the current one.

  The levy will raise roughly $18.3 million per year for the next ten years and will cost the owner of $100,000 property $35 per year for 10 years, an increase of $9.45 from the current levy.

 Discussion: 

Some of the projects deemed crucial by park leadership and that would be funded by the levy include:

·        Dredging Sharon Lake at Sharon Woods (not done since 1989) to improve water quality and environment

·        Leading the region in planning for current and future bike trails and upgrading its own bike and hike trails, including repaving the Sharon Woods Harbor Loop Trail

·        Protecting, preserving, and restoring natural resources and wildlife habitat, including honeysuckle removal and the replanting of trees in areas decimated by the emerald ash borer

·        Upgrading playgrounds including those at Winton Woods Harbor

·        Improving accessibility for people with disabilities to facilities across the park, including Lakeside Lodge at Sharon Woods

·        Fixing broken and outdated roadways, parking lots, bridges, dams and building, including paving Lake Isabella Road and parking lot

 

The levy request would cover about 55% of operating costs and 60% of capital projects deemed necessary for completion over the next decade; additional funds supplementing the levy need to be generated from parks entrance fees, government grants and private donations. As an example of governmental funding Great Parks recently applied for nearly $2.6 million in federal assistance to complete the “final mile” of the Little Miami Scenic Trail that would connect the trail to downtown Cincinnati.

 

Effective 1/1/2017 Great Parks will increase park admission from $3 to $5 for a day pass and $10 to $14 for an annual pass for non-Hamilton County residents

 

Park leaders were considering a much larger levy scenarios including one that would have nearly doubled current tax rates but commissioners decided against those proposals believing the current climate for taxes would make support difficult. 

 

Arguments for Endorsement:

·         The Great Parks of Hamilton County are a community treasure that provide extensive recreational, educational, and environmental value. They are particularly focused on programming for children.

·         This a conservative request, a replacement levy that will result in very modest tax increase for property owners

·         Great Parks of Hamilton County delivers services in a cost efficient manner and has demonstrated itself to be good stewards of public and private funds, and an entrepreneurial approach to find additional funding

·         If the levy fails, it would severely affect Great Parks ability to operate, resulting in severe staff cuts and potential closures of parts of the park system

 Arguments Against Endorsement:

·         Some argue that Hamilton County residents are already heavily burdened by high property taxes and that there are other higher priority needs. 

 We are not aware of any organized opposition to this tax levy.

 Recommendation: The Excellence in Government Panel and Executive Committee recommend that the Cincinnatus Association endorse Issue_. 

CHILDREN'S SERVICES LEVY

Resolution -- That the Cincinnatus Association endorse the Hamilton County Children’s Services levy, Issue _, to fund services needed by children suffering abuse or neglect.

 Issue

 The levy funds are used by the Children’s Services Division (CSD) of the County’s Department of Jobs & Family Services (JFS) to support services for some of the County’s most vulnerable children who have experienced mental illness, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect.  About 2200 such children were helped in 2015.

 The services paid for by the levy are mandated by state or federal law.  The state provides no money for such services. The levy leverages a match of some federal funds.

 This is a straight renewal of a levy in place during 2011-16 which we endorsed in 2011.  It will cost the owner of $100,000 property about $95 per year; since the rate will remain at 2.77 mills, it will not increase taxes.  The levy has raised about $40 million per year, but less than $37 million in 2015.

 Discussion:

 The County’s Tax Levy Review Committee (TLRC) found that the need for these services is great and is increasing due to parental opioid addiction and the trauma that too many children suffer prior to contact with CSD. 

 CSD has struggled in recent years with high staff turnover resulting in larger workloads.  Notwithstanding significant budget and staff cuts in the last decade, an outside expert review of CSD services conducted for the TLRC found that they remain effective and efficient, and the TLRC concluded that JFS has managed its finances quite well.

 CSD may in the next five years lose some federal funds and it could be hurt by changes in Medicaid payments for Juvenile Court-mandated treatments.  Thus, the County may need to revisit the adequacy of funding for these services before the levy ends.

 JFS was forced to operate in a very lean manner in recent years as it awaited conclusion of a federal audit which could have created a liability over $100 million, and it created a large reserve to meet that potential liability.  Fortunately, the audit claim was recently settled for $22.5 million.  JFS had a levy fund carryover of $123 million at the end of FY2015, but the TLRC concluded that it would be necessary to spend down the remaining surplus over the next five-year levy cycle in order to improve services, meet increased needs and costs, and make up for the possible loss of other revenues.

Programs receiving levy funds include: mental health treatment; domestic violence counseling; substance abuse counseling; parenting classes; intensive family services; in-home services; child care; medical assistance; foster care and adoption; kinship care; and transportation.  Organizations receiving funds include: Juvenile Court; the Mental Health Board; and private human service agencies that help children, such as Lighthouse Youth Services, Beech Acres Parenting Center, and Talbert House.

Arguments for Endorsement:

·         The services are mandated and needed.  They cannot be funded with County general revenue funds.  Children will suffer great harm if the levy fails.

·         The services are delivered in a cost-efficient yet effective manner.

·         Because it is a simple renewal levy, there will be no increase in taxes paid by property owners.

·         Without the levy, federal matching funds will be lost, further damaging services.

 Arguments Against Endorsement:

  • Some argue that the County has cut staff and suffered staff retention problems to the extent that services have been harmed and more money is needed.
  • Others argue that local residents are heavily burdened by high property taxes; this levy accumulated a large surplus over the last five-year cycle, proving that it could be reduced without affecting the needed level of service.

 We are not aware of any organized opposition to this tax levy.

 Recommendation: The Excellence in Government Panel and Executive Committee recommend that the Cincinnatus Association endorse Issue _.