As Ohio's drug crisis overwhelms county-run child protection services, voters on Tuesday approved 12 of 13 levies for abused and neglected kids.
Voters in Vinton County approved that county’s first children services levy Tuesday, becoming the 48th county in Ohio with a dedicated tax for child protection. After two previous losses, the 1.5 mill levy, which also includes senior services, passed with 53 percent of the vote and will generate $450,000 a year.
And in Washington County, 54 percent Ok'd its first countywide mental-health levy, designed to help combat the opioid scourge.
But Tuesday's rare levy defeats came in southern Ohio, where drugs have especially taken a toll. All three counties part of the Adams, Lawrence, Scioto Counties Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services Board turned down a 1-mill levy, while a new children services levy in Jackson County was defeated as well.
The overall levy support comes as more children require foster care because their parents are addicted to opioids and other drugs, and their stays in protective custody grow longer as parents struggle to get clean.
"There is no quick treatment and there is a lot of relapse," said Jody Walker, director of South Central Ohio Job and Family Services, which covers Vinton, Hocking and Ross counties.
About 80 percent of children in Vinton County's custody have a parent addicted to drugs, alcohol, or both.
"The opioid problem is the largest challenge because it's hard to get your arms around; it's a life-long struggle," Walker said.
Voters in Crawford and Licking counties also approved new tax levies for children services. Nine replacement and renewal taxes also were approved, according to unofficial statewide election results compiled by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio.
"Passing new, replacement and increased levies can be more challenging," said the association's executive director Angela Sausser. "But voters rose to the challenge, probably recognizing that the opioid epidemic is victimizing too many children in their community."
Across Ohio about 15,500 are currently in protective custody. Between 2010 to 2016, the number increased by 11 percent while the length of stays in foster care grew by 19 percent to 240 days on average.
"This is a big win for kids in our state. State funding (for child welfare was) cut by 50 percent in 2008 and we've never recovered," said Cassandra Holtzmann, director of the Crawford County Department of Job and Family Services.
While some state money has been restored, Ohio still ranks last nationally for public funding of child protective services.
In Crawford County, voters by a 52-48 margin approved a new 1.5 mill children services levy to generate $1.5 million a year.
The funds are desperately needed, Holtzmann said. She noted the county's cost of placing children in foster care has more than doubled to $1.6 million.
"The drug crisis has increased our placement and cases are becoming more complex, children are in longer, parents are relapsing. We are in desperate need of foster families."
Meanwhile, voters statewide approved eight of nine levies for mental health, drug and alcohol treatment, including one in Union County.
As for education, Ohio voters approved 71 percent of school levies on Tuesday's ballot, passing 87 of 122 tax requests, according to unofficial election results compiled by the Ohio School Boards Association.
That's down from a 77 percent passage rate last November when voters approved 115 of 150 levies.
The decline among requests for new tax money was most pronounced.
Voters approved 23 of 53 new school tax levies, a passage rate of 43 percent and a 13-point decrease from the 2016 general election when 56 percent were approved.
Requests to continue existing taxes fared better as voters approved 64 of 69 renewal levies on Tuesday’s ballot, or 93 percent. Last year’s renewal passage rate was 96 percent.
Faced with continuing fiscal challenges, including rising costs and an uncertain state funding formula, many school districts are forced to rely more on their local communities for support, said Damon Asbury, the association's interim director.
School districts that were unsuccessful on the ballot Tuesday likely will be forced to make tough budget decisions, including new rounds of cuts, he said.