“It’s a Process”

The Tallahassee community continues to be recognized for being a great place to start a career, build a life and raise a family. We have world class schools, internationally renowned parks and trails and higher education institutions that produce incredible talent. We also have our share of challenges and of those, one of the most important is a serious poverty problem. If we are ever to become a truly laudable city, then we must combat our high poverty rates and the effect they have on our children.

For the past two years, the Chamber has been evaluating what mechanisms may be best suited to create positive change for our at-risk youth. In 2018, several Chamber leaders began meeting with proponents of a concept known as a Children’s Services Council (CSC).

A CSC is a governmental taxing authority that is authorized by Florida statute for the express purpose of directing public resources to improve the lives of children. Florida counties can create these entities, but a voter referendum is required to do so.

The timing of this discussion was ripe considering the volume of recent stories, headlines and reports that have shown the severity of the poverty issues in our community. In Leon County, 20% of all families live below the poverty line. Nearly half of our community is either in poverty or part of what is known as the A.L.I.C.E. population (Asset Limited Income Constrained & Employed) – one major setback away from falling into poverty. These persistent problems have a tremendous effect on our hometown, especially the children who come from struggling families. Challenges that arise from these problem sets – most notably crime rates – are worrisome for our future.

Although the discussions about creating a CSC in 2018 were meritorious, our Chamber leaders asked organizers to take a step back and further study the issues facing our community, enact a well-vetted plan of action and retain a higher level of community engagement before pushing for a ballot measure. In fact, our Board of Directors approved a position statement that outlined how that process could look and why it was needed.

Organizers for the CSC and local elected leaders agreed to take these appropriate measures and established the Children’s Services Council Planning Committee. Now that the committee work is complete, the CSC will be on the ballot in November 2020.  You can read the CSC Planning Committee’s final report here.

Throughout the planning committee process, our Chamber Board, Business Advocacy Committee and other business leaders have remained engaged. We continue to monitor the progress of the CSC efforts while also sharing information with members. The Board is now considering what position the Chamber should take on this important decision for the future of our community.

Chamber Board leaders have asked our staff to conduct member outreach to gauge their thoughts on the issue. In our recent member advocacy survey, there was a high level of support for investing dedicated tax dollars in children’s services. As the next step in that process, we are offering members an additional opportunity to learn about the proposed CSC and ask questions of those who are advocating for its passage later this year. This information session will be held Wednesday, March 4, from 8:30am –10:00am at Capital City Country Club. Members wishing to attend can RSVP here.

The biggest concern with the creation of a CSC is the potential for an increase in local property taxes (between 2.6-3.3% depending on location). An increase in taxes is not something that our Board takes lightly. In fact, as part of our Guiding Principles, we state that “tax and fee burdens should be minimized on business, and we will only support an increase in taxes or fees on local business that demonstrates measurable benefit to local business and the economy.” That being said, the Chamber Board believes that the continued impacts of poverty, crime, and economic segregation are creating a substantial drag on our local economy and the ability to have the workforce we need for the future. In addition, the model for a CSC should provide for a central clearinghouse of information, data and funding to tackle those challenges. The creation of a CSC may not solve all of our problems, but the potential for positive impacts certainly requires our attention and consideration. We hope our members will offer it the same.

To find out more about the proposed Children’s Services Council in Leon County, please join our information session next week. If you’d like to learn about the Our Kids First initiative and their work to support a CSC on the ballot, you can visit their website at www.ourkidsfirst-leon.com.

Jay Revell
Vice President, Advocacy and Public Policy