County delays Children’s Services Council, kicks property tax proposal to 2020 ballot

From the Tallahassee Democrat

County commissioners decided this isn’t the year to place a Children’s Services Council referendum on the ballot.

In a unanimous vote, commissioners bought Leon County time to mount an education campaign and build community support for a 2020 ballot effort — an 11th hour idea that came from community members and business leaders and gained traction at the dais.

County Commissioner Mary Ann Lindley made the motion to make an official commitment for a 2020 ballot measure and commissioners agreed.

If it had been placed and approved in the November election, Leon County would have been the ninth in the state with a CSC. The measure required a simple majority of the County Commission to get on the ballot.

Approval of the independent citizen-led group would create a special taxing authority with an estimated $8 million per year at its disposal. A Leon County CSC could raise the property tax rate up to half a mill or $42 per $100,000 in taxable property value per year.

More than 80 speakers, many dressed in powder blue shirts and stamped with a child’s handprint, arrived in droves and made passionate appeals that the commission stay the course.

“Please don’t kick this can to 2020,” said Former Tallahassee City Attorney Lew Shelley. “It’s easy to kick this thing, folks, down the road … Do the right thing. Do the courageous thing.”

‘We want a chance to vote for our children’

In a rare show of support on an issue, three officials — Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil, State Attorney Jack Campbell and Second Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Jonathan Sjostrom — came out in support of action to address issues related to children.

“We want a chance to vote for our children,” said Barbara DeVane, a Florida lobbyist for the National Organization for Women.  “We don’t need two more years. I guarantee you the same people will be up here and saying why we don’t need this.”

Debate on Children’s Service Council 

While few debate the needs of local children, a community chasm appears when talks of how those needs should be met and whether the plan was being rushed to the ballot. Those opposed also had their turn at the podium.

“We need to slow this train down,” said Ted Thomas, a member of the Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates that joined the Chamber of Commerce in opposing the effort. “We need to support issues and things that are in place right now.”

The November ballot effort’s defeat became clear when Lindley made her motion and said the proposal wasn’t ready for “prime time.”

Commissioner John Dailey, who jolted community conversation in recent months with his surprise motion in March to hold a public hearing, said Leon County was at a crossroads. He said the poverty rate was unacceptable, along with knowing children were going hungry every day.

“I’m ready for some action. Having said that, it needs to be responsible action,” he said, lending his support for a 2020 ballot effort. “It’s our job to find consensus in this community. I do think there’s this amazing middle ground.”

Commissioner Bill Proctor blistered fellow commissioners comparing the delay to jilting a bride at the altar. He supported the idea of a Children’s Services Council but opposed a delayed ballot measure.

“There are no surprises tonight,” he said. “They are just kicking the can down the road and gets people off the hook from having to take a definitive position.”

Commissioners floated the idea of including a $150,000 grant to help build a community coalition for the effort, but delayed that decision after further discussion.

Stay turned to for more on this story Tuesday.