County asking voters to renew human services levy that generates $73M a year

A levy that generates about $73 million annually for a large variety of human services in Montgomery County will be up for renewal next month, and supporters say those services are needed now more than ever.

The human services levy, which will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot as Issue 1, renews the larger of two countywide levies that pay for services for elderly and frail residents, abused and neglected children, people with developmental disabilities, the homeless, unemployed workers and people in crisis, including those struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues.

The measure will not raise taxes, and supporters say though more than 50,000 people in the county receive direct levy-funded services, they benefit the entire community.

“This human services levy touches the lives of every single person in the community,” said Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) of Montgomery County, which receives nearly half of its revenue from the county’s human services levies.

On Nov. 2, Montgomery County voters will decide whether to approve a 8.21-mill renewal levy that costs the standard owner of a $100,000 home about $17.50 per month (or slightly more than $210 per year), county officials said.

The county has a pair of eight-year human service levies: Levy A and Levy B.

The measure on the November ballot is Levy A, which was last approved in 2014 with the support of nearly two-thirds of voters (64%).

But that renewal measure asked for a 1 additional mill that raised taxes. The renewal on the November ballot keeps taxes at the same level, even despite recent property revaluations.

Levy B was on the ballot for a straight renewal in 2017, and about three-fourths of voters approved its passage.

“This levy is a renewal — no increase in taxes,” said Tom Kelley, who is the assistant county administrator for human services for Montgomery County. “Right now with everything else going on, the levy council, the commissioners and all of our agencies all felt that it was really important to hold the line, try to look for efficiencies.”

Levy A expires at the end of this year, but collections continue through the end of 2022 because they lag one year behind.

The levies are a primary funding source of vital local human services, which have been in higher demand due to the pandemic and the current economic climate, Kelley said, adding that local partners decided this was not the time to seek a tax increase.

The region still has a long way to go to recover all of the jobs lost during the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, and unemployment is higher than before the outbreak.

The combined human services levies provide crucial flexibility that allow the county, the levy council and funding recipients to quickly respond to emerging needs, like how the pandemic led to higher demand for delivered meals and senior care, Kelley said.

Some levy funds pay for indigent hospital care, job training for the unemployed, healthy food initiatives, public health programs and services, and early diagnosis and treatment for children with disabilities.

Everyone in the county benefits from the levy because it helps pay for universal services like restaurant inspections and water-quality measures, Kelley said.

Montgomery County is fairly unique in that it only has two human services levies — most of its peers around the state have more levies restricted to specific uses.

The county’s combined levies have never failed since they were first approved decades ago, officials said, and about 43% of levy services are provided to citizens in the urban core, while the rest go to residents who live elsewhere in the county.

The levies directly fund more than 35 nonprofits, but those organizations subcontract with many other service providers.

The Area Agency on Aging for west central Ohio receives more than $8.7 million from the county’s human services levies, which help fund its ComCare program.

ComCare provides older adults who are not eligible for the Ohio Medicaid Program and their caregivers a package of in-home services and assistance that help residents remain in their own homes, instead of having to move into a nursing home or long-term care facility, said Douglas McGarry, executive director of the agency’s local planning and service area.

The services, which are based on a sliding fee scale, include personal care, home-delivered meals, emergency response systems, transportation, medical equipment and other help, he said.

“Without the support of the Montgomery County Human Services Levy the ComCare program would end,” he said, noting that about 1,200 people are enrolled in the program each day. “Consumers and their caregivers would be forced to pay privately for their care either at home or enter a long-term care facility.”

ADAMHS of Montgomery County received $25.8 million in levy funds in 2021, which accounted for more than half of its budget (54%).

Last year, ADAMHS hosted nearly 350 trainings to more than 16,700 people, and the organization expanded and added new services during the coronavirus public health crisis, Jones-Kelley said.

ADAMHS works with community providers to improve the mental well-being of citizens while also trying to reduce issues with brain illness and substance abuse, she said.

Many community members are dealing with stress and trauma from the COVID-19 emergency and recent crises like the Memorial Day tornadoes and the Oregon District mass shooting, she said.

While humans services levy renewals received overwhelming support of voters in past election cycles, Jones-Kelley said she worries this time around some people have the wrong idea that levy funds are only for welfare assistance.

Levy funds account for about two-thirds of the Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities’ budget.

They help pay for housing and home-based supports for people developmental disabilities, as well as emergency shelter and assistance for members of this population, said Janice Saddler Rice, the board’s director of communications.

The funding also helps with early intervention, mental health and family-support services for children and people with disabilities, she said.

“It’s hard to even fathom the impact it would have on the people our agency serves if we lost this funding,” she said.

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