Proposition One to Take Four Years to Take Effect

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COLUMBIA - As sales tax begins to come in to fund the "Putting Kids First" agenda voters approved in November, managers of those funds said the public will begin to see the results of the tax at the end of the year and stretching out for four more years.

After an assessment of local mental health services for children, Putting Kids First advocated for the sales tax increase. The MU Institute of Public assessment showed 3,000 children 19 and younger are in need and are not getting the help they need. The assessment also showed that more than 60 homeless children in Boone County were being turned down for shelter because there was not enough space, and more than 350 children went without counseling help when they needed it.

Proposition 1 was a quarter-cent sales tax increase to provide mental health services for people age 19 and younger, including temporary housing, outpatient treatment for substance abuse, school-based prevention programs and counseling and psychiatric services.

"I coordinated the campaign effort," Director of Regional Operations Christine Corcoran said. "So, getting the petition and signatures to get it on the ballot."

The quarter-cent sales tax increase is estimated to generate $6.2 million annually. Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller said the citizens paid the first penny on April 1. Miller said it takes a while before it goes into effect, but the money is coming in.

Some families, like the Harris', said they could really benefit from this tax increase. After fostering sisters Abby and Sarah, Aaron and Maureen Harris adopted the girls.  

"They need as much help as possible," Maureen said. "When you look at them and interact with them you think these are typical kids, but when you really look at them closely and look at how their past and how their needs are going to affect their future they just need as much help as possible." 

The Harris's said the girls need family therapy, speech and language services, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.

Corcoran said she sees the gaps every day, and it is so frustrating because it really does come down to money and resources.

"It felt good to be doing something about it and educating the community," Corcoran said. "People that didn't think it impacted them, their kid is sitting next to someone in a classroom that is being disruptive and taking the teachers time. It felt really good to be doing something action oriented, and to talk to people about the needs."

Several counties around the state have passed local tax initiatives that have helped provide services for kids in need.

"In St. Louis, I was seeing the impact that money was having on kids and families, so I started talking with my co-agencies and we began the process almost two years ago," Corcoran said. "The assessment showed that there really was huge gaps in services."  

Corcoran said she hopes Boone County is more successful than the other areas that have implemented this tax. She said St.Charles County has been the most successful so far, and the county has seen fewer dropouts and a decrease in child abuse and neglect.

"The great thing about this money is it is not intended to build buildings, to pad salaries, or those kinds of things," Corcoran said. "It's really intended to be a fee for a service. So you work with kids through counseling or interventions and you get paid for that work."

Corcoran said a lot of the resources need to be spent in staff or people. She also said there is a huge lack of child psychiatry in town, so some of the money could go toward that type of service.

"It has been difficult to find people who are really good at it and can actually make things change," Aaron said. "The most effective resources we have found are all booked up and you can't see them or you have to get on a waiting list." 

The Boone County Commission had more than 30 applicants and chose nine local residents to be on the board of directors. "The board of directors has responsibility for allocating how those funds are going to be spent," Miller said. "We spent over 15 hours of interviews to get us to the point of being able to appoint a board that we felt had the skills that collectively made a very, very strong board."

The board meets every two weeks. During the meetings, the board is setting up committees. Miller said the board is setting up a community services department. Miller also said there are currently no by-laws or strategic plans, but that is what the board is working on.

When the money does finally become available, Corcoran thinks the entire community will benefit from this tax. She said this will make our community a safer and more attractive place.

"Families will have choices about where to go to get help and they don't have to wait to get that help they can get help rather immediately because there will be the resources to get it," Corcoran said.

Miller said the money will begin to go out next year. She said this year the money will go through the budget cycle. While the money is still being processed Miller said there will be requests for proposal where people can explain what needs they think need to be addressed.

There have not been any requests for proposals yet. The Commission is in infrastructure and staffing stage at the moment.

The Harris's are frustrated that the money is not available yet. 

"Great it has been passed, but it is going to take X amount of time before it is even available," Aaron said. "There are a lot of families that are going to be affected by that. That is an entire year of development potentially lost for those kids because the money is being tied up." 

The Harris's said when and if the money does become available, it could be very effective. 

"I hope this proposition is a bit of an encouragement and motivation for other people to consider foster care," Aaron Harris said.

"If one family looks at this program and says 'I think I can do this, I have these resources behind me,' then that is one kid who is kind of saved and rescued," Maureen Harris said. 

For more information on mental health service provides visit here.