From the Tallahassee Democrat
The Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce will soon take a position in the coming months on a controversial voter referendum to create a tax-funded Children’s Services Council in Leon County.
With eight months to the general election in November, Chamber members continue to show a mix of support and skepticism.
In December, an internal survey asked Chamber members to weigh in on a broad scope of issues impacting the business community, including a CSC in Leon County. Most respondents supported a local effort.
However, on Wednesday, several members posed lingering questions on logistics, merits and the approach for prioritizing focus and funds during a presentation and Q&A session led by the Our Kids First Political Action Committee.
“The Chamber Board of Directors’ position in March 2018 asked for a citizen-driven, well-staffed and comprehensive evaluation based on stakeholder engagement to determine the best approach to enhance the future of our children,” said Sue Dick, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. “We believe that process has taken place.”
“Our board will continue to take input from our members and others in the business community with a formal position provided in the near future,” she added, “based on our guiding principles that focused on the future of our children and workforce needs.”
As the city’s most influential voice of the business community, the Chamber’s position could make or break the likelihood of a CSC in the state’s capital.
Tallahassee attorney Ginny Dailey, an Our Kids First PAC committee member, fielded questions and laid out what she called a once-in-a generation effort to shift outcomes for local children.
Dailey, wife of Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey, offered a range of indicators, including the fact that nearly half of children in Leon County aren’t ready for kindergarten.
As a result, they have a greater chance of entering the school system behind and more prone to lifelong challenges, including the inability to earn a high income, own a home and maintain a retirement savings account.
“We have got to get involved before kindergarten day one and give these children every opportunity for success,” Dailey said. “We think this program is good for families. Whether your family is struggling to make ends meet or you’re struggling to find the right services for your child’s issues, the CSC can improve each family’s outcomes.”
Backstory on local effort
A CSC in Leon County — a notion that failed to pass in a 1990 special election — was resurrected in March 2018 by then-County Commissioner John Dailey, now serving as mayor.
Numerous CSCs already operate in several Florida counties, including Miami-Dade, Alachua and Palm Beach. Most of them are made up of 10 members, including the school superintendent, a juvenile judge, a county commissioner and five governor appointees.
State statute 125.901 said money collected by councils are for supporting improvements in children’s services and not as a substitute for existing resources.
Dailey said the CSC’s statutory-mandated structure is based on a targeted investment and deciding which metric, such as early learning, crime prevention, will be tackled by the CSC’s board. The CSC would be required to provide quarterly and annual reports on how it’s responding to the designated goal.
“How you get there, that’s the flexibility part,” Dailey said. “That’s the part that each county can do differently, and each county can pick what their metric or goal is.”
In 2018, a 21-member Planning Committee met and was tasked to comb through reams of data amassed from Children Services Councils statewide, along with multiple reports highlighting programs and needs aimed at children.
The committee completed its work in December and released an exhaustive 118-page report to the public.
Areas of concern included high arrests rates children under the age of 18, infant mortality and lower rate of accredited childcare programs.
The Planning Committee didn’t take a stance on whether a CSC should be created in Leon County but laid out a structure, accountability measures, policies and procedures for a potential CSC.
If voters approved, the group recommended three main areas for focus: success in school and life, healthy children and families and stable and nurturing families and communities.
Money raised, mix of support
Since October, there have been 29 presentations to community groups like the Chamber of Commerce.
They’ll continue as the campaign ramps up for the November general election.
The Our Kids First PAC has raised roughly $64,500, according to recent finance reports filed with the Leon County Supervisor of Elections. The local PAC hopes to raise at least $150,000 to push its efforts.
If created in Leon County, could impose a property tax rate of up to half a mil or $42 per $100,000 in taxable property value per year — representing up to $8 million per year. It would be reauthorized every 12 years by voters.
While other counties have taken an incremental approach toward the tax levied on property owners, the PAC is recommending the largest amount possible in an effort to make the most change, supporters said.
Despite the information session, several Chamber members voiced concerns about the creation of another tax on property owners and how existing funding structures couldn’t achieve the same results as a CSC.
“I’ve got a lot of questions,” said Tallahassee attorney Terry Madigan, following the event.
“I’m just concerned we are creating a new bureaucracy that’s going to raise taxes. The objectives are not clear,” Madigan said. “Everybody’s for the children. You know, everybody wants to end poverty and hunger, etc. This is something the County Commission could do on its own.”
Madigan said the County Commission has the power to raise taxes and dispatch funds toward areas of need if the board chooses.
“I don’t think we need another government entity with pretty broad powers on its own that do not answer to the voters,” Madigan said. “Once every 12 years is not real often.”
Rob Clarke Jr., a business attorney at Ausley McMullen law firm, said he was struck by the extensive work being done my local nonprofits and providers when he attended a recent poverty summit.
But he left with “no sense of direction” on how to coordinate what he called valiant efforts.
“What I see is the Children’s Services Council coming in and providing some management and management of the big picture is the key,” Clarke said. “I was really amazed by how many people in this community are doing such wonderful work. I mean, fighting hard to make a difference but it is not coordinated at all.
Contact TaMaryn Waters at email@example.com or follow @TaMarynWaters on Twitter.