Child services council pushes tax referendum

Brevard County property owners could be paying an additional $8 million to $11 million a year in taxes, starting next year, to provide a host of services for children of low-income families.

That’s if the Children’s Services Council of Brevard County is successful in getting voters to approve what members propose as a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot to grant the taxing authority.

But they first must convince the County Commission, at its July 24 meeting, to place the referendum on the ballot.

“What we’re trying to show is we have more needs than resources,” Adrian Laffitte, a council member appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, said July 11 in a meeting to craft a pitch to commissioners.

The council’s Internet site states that 44,899 Brevard families have children, 6,605 of them live below the poverty level and an additional 7,584 can’t support a minimum survival budget.

“That’s 14,189 families with children (31.6 percent) struggling right here in Brevard,” the site states.

If voters approve a referendum, residents and businesses would be levied a property tax rate, separate from other county rates, of 25 cents for every $1,000 of taxable value in the first year.

The owner of a $200,000 home, with a $50,000 homestead exemption, would be taxed at $37.50. Brevard United Way President Rob Rains calculated that would mean $8.4 million for children’s services.

In future years, the tax rate would increase to 33 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value, or $49.50 for the $200,000 home. Rains said that would net $11.4 million.

Commissioners created the child-welfare panel in 1990, under a new state law. But the commission didn’t authorize a source of money for it, and voters two years later defeated a referendum to do so.

Members last week said they hope to meet four top goals if they can get the tax funding:

  • Enhance and better integrate existing agencies’ services for children from before birth to age 3, estimated at $1.5 million.
  • Increase access to and improve the quality of child care in the county, at $2.5 million.
  • Prevent early delinquency by expanding out-of-school activities for children in elementary and middle school, at $1.5 million.
  • Build capacity and expand services for children with “physical, intellectual and/or emotional challenges,” also at $1.5 million.

Those were just estimates, Rains said. But he provided them, he said, because some county commissioners have insisted on seeing numbers.

“Some voters want to know where this money would be going,” he said.

Governor-appointed member Todd Morley bristled at having to provide dollar figures this far in advance. That will all depend on the council issuing requests for proposals, and then awarding the contracts to providers, he said.

“Without RFPs, and the approval of the RFPs, we have no answers for any of this,” he said.

County Commissioner Kristine Isnardi of Palm Bay also sits on the panel as the county’s delegate. But she was absent from the July 11 meeting. Rains frequently alluded to her, however, and her desire to see a concrete plan.

Isnardi has declined to comment on her stand on the proposed referendum. She has said she won’t telegraph her vote to fellow commissioners and thus violate the Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine Law.

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