There has been a lot of talk about the creation of a Children Services Council (CSC) since the Leon County Commission voted in 2018 to put the issue on the November 3rd, 2020 ballot.
With election day just weeks away, the talk has now moved to a more focused debate between the advocates and critics of the initiative.
Business groups, elected officials, and some community leaders have taken a position on the issue. Interestingly, where some elected officials and groups stand on the initiative defies conventional wisdom.
For example, Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor has recently come out against the initiative, while the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce has voiced support.
Advocates and critics provide widely different answers to basic questions about the proposal, which complicates the analysis of the initiative.
For example, advocates have stated that local government spends approximately $700,000 on children services while critics argue that various government programs spend $200 million on various social programs that help children.
Advocates argue the CSC governing structure is transparent and accountable. Critics say no.
And while most say there is a need for more children services, some believe things are not as bad as portrayed by CSC supporters.
What is a CSC?
A CSC is an independent, special district which by state law can levy up to a half mil property tax for children services. Advocates point out that for the average homestead property in Leon County this tax is less than $50 annually. It is estimated that the tax could raise $6-8 million in the first year.
The council is required to include four elected officials (superintendent of schools, a school board member, county commissioner and juvenile court judge), the local Department of Children and Families administrator, and five citizen members nominated by the Leon County Commission and appointed by the governor.
The law governing the council requires reporting, auditing and accountability requirements. These requirements include a community plan and annual report that directs funding to unmet needs, prevents duplication and delivers effective, outcome-based services.
Also, each CSC must be put to the voters at least every 12 years for reauthorization or dissolution.
Currently nine CSC’s exist in Florida with the oldest in Pinellas County, which was established in 1946. The most recent CSC was established in Alachua County in 2018.
Advocates hold out the statutory language that grants authority for local communities to create a CSC as a major selling point.
For example, supporters like Tom Derzypolski, a self-described Republican small business owner, states “I can tell you I am impressed with what I discovered after taking a deep dive into the governance of a CSC…the oversight required by Florida Statute 125.901 should be the standard-bearer for all programs in our community.
Others do not.
Critics like Terry Madigan, a local attorney and member of the Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates (NEBA), states that “along with the blank check, Commissioners will abdicate their fiduciary duties by giving control of your money to an unelected, appointed committee that will not be accountable to the voters.”
Also, opponents of the CSC structure have argued that, rather than creating a new tax authority, the Leon County Commission should rework its existing budget to allocate more funding to children’s programs.
Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor, who opposes the initiative and recognizes the need for children services, supports a different approach.
In a press release, Proctor stated that the “creation of a children’s agency without a new property tax is within our capacity to achieve given the vast collective resources for our small community. Leadership is needed to cobble a reasonable amount of $2 to 3 million dollars to launch a local and locally controlled agency to provide non-elected leadership over a children’s agency… We, before generating new property taxes, have a pool of $3.6 billion public dollars from which to collaborate our institutional support for a new children’s agency. “
A CSC planning committee was convened in 2018 and pinpointed three priority areas: “success in school and life,” “healthy children and families,” and “stable and nurturing families and communities.”
“A key metric for “success in school and life” is the percentage of childcare programs designated as Gold Seal. The Gold Seal Quality Care program acknowledges child care facilities and family day care homes that have gone above the required minimum licensing standards and reflect quality in the level of care and supervision provided to children. Approximately 12% of Leon County’s childcare programs are Gold Seal, compared with a state average of 28%.
According to the report, the goals in this priority area are increasing school readiness and decreasing juvenile crime.
In the second priority area, “healthy children and families,” the CSC’s main goals are enhancing both physical and mental health, including improving infant health and increasing mental resilience in children.
In the third priority area, “stable and nurturing families and communities,” goals are lowering arrest rates through job training and lowering food insecurity.
According to the report, Leon County’s food insecurity rate is 21.1%, compared to a 13.9% state average. To lower this rate, the CSC plans to provide year-round access to food to children in Leon County.”
However, Emily Fritz, who opposes the initiative, does not believe CSC’s are the answer.
Fritz argues that “CSC’s across the state do not have a great track record. Leon County ranks higher than seven of the nine counties that have CSC’s in the 2019 Kids Count Child Well-being index. Leon ranks #16. Pinellas County has had a CSC for 74 years and collects four times the amount of money per child than Leon will collect, but it ranks #29. Other counties with CSC’s for 20 – 30 years rank below Leon.”
Seeking Answers to Three Questions
After a review of all that has been written and said in favor and against the creation of a Children Services Council, there appears to be three critical questions that CSC advocates need to answer.
First, with an $8 million first year budget, how much will be spent on administration costs?
Critics have been concerned about the lack of financial projections and are concerned about high administrative salaries. It has been reported that the Executive Director of the Palm Beach County CSC has an compensation package of approximately $250,000.
Second, provide examples of three current children services programs in Leon County that have been evaluated as effective, but are short on resources?
The Leon County-City of Tallahassee CHSP process spends $4 million on 84 programs. Which programs have been evaluated to produce effective outcomes?
And third, assuming advocates are correct about the need for children services, why does a new governing body need to be created versus using the Blueprint approach to children services?
Tallahassee Reports will seek the answer to these questions and provide a report.