Sales Tax Ballot Measure Raises Questions of Control of Funds
COLUMBIA - When Boone County residents make their way to the ballot box in about two weeks, there will be only one county-wide tax up for vote- Proposition One.
The proposition would levy a quarter cent sales tax to establish a Children Service's Fund, money aimed at providing needy children, aged 19 and under, with access to treatment for addiction, abuse, depression, and anxiety.
According to Christina Corcoran, coordinator of Putting Kids First coalition which supports the measure, some of the services that the tax would fund would be crisis intervention services, transitional living services, and outpatient psychiatric treatment.
Corcoran said the tax would address the gaps in services for kids and families.
"It could be a mom calling a counseling agency because her kid is expressing suicide ideation and being told 'Sorry, you can get an appointment in two weeks or two months.' It could be bringing resources in to help people get immediate appointments," said Corcoran.
Local organizations, like Rainbow House, a regional child advocacy group which provides shelter and services for homeless youth through the Rainbow House Homeless Youth Program, support the proposition.
"The biggest benefit that we would see through Proposition One is mental health services for the youth in our program, mainly through other agencies that provide those services that we would refer residents to," said Claire Slama, director of the homeless youth program at Rainbow House.
Corcoran said the tax is expected to generate approximately $5.4 million annually and will be governed by an independent, nine-member board of Boone County citizens, appointed by the board of commissioners.
But the exact plans for the funds seem to still be up in the air.
District I County Commissioner Karen Miller said there are two options to determine who allocates the funds: a stand alone, nonprofit group or a division of county government. The nine person board will make that decision if the proposition passes.
"We haven't made that decision because we need to wait and see if it passes. We aren't going to put a lot of energy into something when we might not have to. We are very busy," said Miller.
Putting Kids First, the group behind the ballot initiative, is simply a coalition as of now. Its status as a nonprofit or as a 501 (c)3 has not yet been determined.
The proposition was first presented to Boone County commissioners on July 18.
On August 21, the measure made it onto the ballot after garnering more than 8,000 signatures on petitions following the commission's request.
Miller said the petition was a necessary procedure to determine public support for the ballot measure.
"It costs money every time the commission puts something on the ballot...I wanted to make sure that if we were going to do that, it was something that had a chance of being successful," says Miller.
Similar initiatives have been passed in other counties across the state, including Franklin, St.Charles, and St. Louis County and City. In the early 1990s, Missouri passed legislation allowing counties to establish such funds.
Corcoran said other counties have seen great results from the fund.
"They have seen increases in high school graduations, decreases in child abuse and neglect. St. Charles county saw a 46% decrease in juvenile delinquency...They have seen some pretty solid indicators that it works," said Corcoran.
But financial irregularities regarding a similar fund established in the Saint Louis area recently spurred an investigation by the FBI.
According to the Saint Louis Post Dispatch, the FBI launched an investigation of the former director of the Saint Louis County Children Service's fund, Kate Tamsey. The Post-Dispatch reported the investigation was spurred by "financial irregularities between the Children Service's Fund and some of its vendors."
"She has done nothing wrong and welcomes a thorough investigation," said Scott Rosenblum, Tansey's attorney.
Corcoran said Tansey has no involvement with the initiative here in Boone County.
The exact ballot language of the proposition reads, "Shall Boone County, solely for the purpose of establishing a Community Children's Services Fund (authorized by RSMO 67.1775) for the purpose of providing services to protect the well-being and safety of children and youth nineteen years of age or less and to strengthen families, be authorized to levy a sales tax of one-quarter cent in the County of Boone?"
The wording raises questions of just who would control the funds.
"I know that our county commission is very committed to a transparent and open process...everybody that would receive money would be audited," said Corcoran.
"If it's a county division, we have safeguards in place all the way through," said Miller.
But that's a big "if." Because if the nine-person board decides that the funds will be controlled by a separate body, Miller said the commission has no authority to check those funds, except through appointing the members of the board.
"They would have to put together their own policies and determine how they are going to safeguard themselves," said Miller.