Dear Kenyon Students,
On Tuesday, May 4, there will be a special election concerning an additional tax levy to fund Knox County Children’s Services. If you are registered to vote here in Gambier, please participate in this election.
Children’s services are public agencies administered at the county level in Ohio. They serve the welfare of children and their families, including but not limited to child protective services, investigation of child abuse and neglect, foster care and adoption services. These services help families who cannot meet their children’s needs due to the severity of the child’s or parents’ health problems, addictions or economic circumstances.
As associates at the Center for the Study of American Democracy researching this issue to inform the Knox County community, my colleague Nicole Predina ’23 and I had the pleasure of talking to the director of Knox County Children’s Services, Matthew Kurtz. In that interview, he explained some of the key facts surrounding this tax levy.
According to Kurtz, this additional levy is needed due to the rising cost of placing children in need in suitable residential environments (whether that be with a family, in a foster home or in a residential treatment facility), as well as the increasing number of children placed in the care of Knox County. Since 2018, monthly placement costs have risen by 31%. Between 2016 and 2020, the number of children in Knox County’s care increased by 89%. And, in June 2020, the number of children in the county’s care reached an all-time high of 163.
What accounts for these record numbers? Kurtz partially attributes the record number of children in the county’s care in 2020 to “complications with court hearings, home visits, and restrictions brought about by COVID-19.” But even before COVID-19, Children’s Services had been conducting more investigations and had been overseeing more children than in previous years due to the opioid crisis and “an increase in domestic violence-related situations.” These problems have only “been compounded by the COVID-19 epidemic as families have been more isolated.”
Knox County Children’s Services will use all of the funds gained by the passage of this levy for the children under their care and to pay for placement costs. More specifically, roughly half of those funds will be used to pay for the placement of children in residential treatment facilities who are “suffering severe psychological and behavioral issues.” In many cases, Medicaid does not entirely cover placement costs for these children, which is why Children’s Services often must foot the bill.
On the other hand, we as Kenyon students must also be mindful that this additional tax levy will raise property taxes for the surrounding community. It would raise taxes by $0.10 for each $100 of valuation. Increasing funding for Knox County Children’s Services will have a cost, so we must make sure the funding solution doesn’t unduly burden community members.
Kenyon is not an island isolated from the surrounding community. Knox County depends on us to prosper and, likewise, we rely on Knox County to thrive as a campus. So please, if you are registered to vote in Gambier, take the time on May 4 to vote on this tax levy and make your voice heard within the broader Knox County community.
William Yanek ’23, CSAD student associate, on behalf of the CSAD student associates