December 18, 2014

Elyria
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Children services to put levy on November ballot

ELYRIA — Lorain County Children Services will ask voters for more money in November.

The county commissioners approved a request from the agency Wednesday to place a 1.5-mill renewal levy with a .3-mill increase on the ballot.

The levy now produces about $8.7 million of Children Services’ annual budget of $17 million, Executive Director Scott Ferris told the commissioners during the meeting. He said since the last time the levy was approved in 2009, the agency has seen a decline in the money provided by state and federal governments to provide services.

But he also said that the levy will not fully restore all the lost funding.

“We will still be operating at a lower annual budget than before our current levy cycle started,” Ferris said in his prepared remarks. “This levy will not restore all funding but will provide the necessary funds to meet community expectations and provide mandated services.”

Children Services spokeswoman Patti-Jo Burtnett said if approved, the new levy would bring in around $10.7 million beginning in 2016.

Under the current levy, the owner of a home valued at $100,000 pays $45.96 per year. That figure would rise to $56.52 if voters approve the levy.

Commissioner Tom Williams said he has some concerns that Children Services may struggle to win the support of voters in November because of a series of missteps by the agency, including its botched handling of the case of Erica Perez, whose children were found by Lorain police living in a filthy home with almost no food in 2012.

The agency has suffered from budget cutbacks and criticism of its board, which often had too few members at its monthly meetings to vote on issues. Gary Crow, the longtime Children Services director, resigned last June.

Ferris said since Crow’s departure, the agency has taken steps to address the problems and has made an effort to rebuild its reputation locally.

Also Wednesday, the commissioners agreed to ask county Auditor Craig Snodgrass to put together figures for possible levies to support the county’s Crime Lab and Lorain County Transit.

In the past two years, voters have twice rejected levies for transit, which county Administrator Jim Cordes said remains in desperate need of additional revenue.

Williams said he isn’t certain now is the time to try for a Crime Lab levy because of lingering questions over mishandled items at the Lorain County Adult Probation Department that remain under investigation.

Although the Crime Lab and its director, Emmanuel de Leon, were cleared of wrongdoing in that probe, the lab remains under the shadow of the investigation, which county officials had blamed for voters rejecting a Crime Lab levy in May.

The commissioners have not yet decided whether to put either of those issues before voters in the fall.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.