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Published: Thursday, 10/19/2006

2 agencies in Lucas County have levies on ballot

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Two Lucas County agencies, which each have had several decades of success at the polls, hope that voters will once again pledge financial support on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Children Services and Emergency Services are each requesting levies - one a renewal, the other a replacement. The issues are among several that Lucas County voters will decide.

Children Services is requesting a five-year, 1.4-mill renewal levy, which would bring in about $11 million a year and cost $37.19 a year on a $100,000 home. Because it is a renewal, the levy would not be affected by new property values.

Emergency Services is proposing a replacement of its five-year, 0.7-mill levy to help fund an enhanced 911 system and the maintenance for a county communication system. If approved by voters, the levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $21.44 a year.

Leaders of both agencies said they haven't heard from any negative camps on the issues. But with a stagnant economy and several property taxes on the ballot, supporters are not taking anything for granted.

"The board is mindful that these are not good economic times for the voters of Lucas County," said Gordon Barry, a local lawyer who chairs the Children Services board of trustees. "We've tried to be as conservative as possible and keep our levy requests as conservative as possible."

Children Services has a fund balance of $26.7 million, which officials said is unspent levy money from previous years. The agency should maintain a large balance to ensure it can provide services to the 12,000 children it investigates annually for instances of abuse or neglect, 60 percent of whom need out-of-home care, Dean Sparks, the agency's executive director, said.

Officials said the agency's annual operating expenses have been higher than its income, and the $26.7 million balance could turn into a $10 million debt by 2011, even if the levy is approved.

The levy and a 1-mill levy that expires in 2008 account for 46 percent of the agency's funding. The levy has been approved regularly by voters since 1981, but was reduced last time, in 2001, to 1.4 mills from 2.25 mills.

The first time residents approved what was then the new concept of 911 was in 1986, said EMA Director Dennis Cole. Voters have approved the levies to maintain emergency response services ever since.

This year's replacement - which means the millage will affect new property values - will help fund both 911 services and maintain the county's communications system, which was created through use of federal grants.

"This is something we absolutely need to ensure so that safety forces can move forward with their communication," said Mike Wolever, Toledo's assistant fire chief and homeland security coordinator.

"One of the persistent problems we see with public safety, locally and nationwide, certainly for a large disaster but even smaller events, is that communication can fail," he said.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076.


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