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The Suburbanite
  • Stark DD seeks to combine two existing levies

  • The Stark County Board of Developmental Disabilities wants to combine two of its existing levies — a 1.9-mill that expires at the end of 2013 and a 1.4-mill that expires at the end of 2014 — into a 3.3-mill, 10-year tax issue.

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  • On buses, along roadways and on billboards, campaign signs for the Stark County Board of Development Disabilities’ levy proclaim that Issue 1 will not increase taxes.
    Yet, the proposed tax levy is labeled “additional” on the May 7 ballot.
    It’s not a misprint, and the levy supporters’ campaign signs aren’t false either.
    Here’s why:
    The countywide agency that serves more than 3,300 people with developmental disabilities wants to combine two of its existing levies — a 1.9-mill that expires at the end of 2013 and a 1.4-mill that expires at the end of 2014 — into a 3.3-mill, 10-year tax issue. Since the 1.4-mill levy doesn’t expire until next year, election law says Issue 1 must be called an additional tax.
    To prevent an overlap in collections with the existing 1.4-mill levy and the proposed 3.3-mill combination levy, Stark DD’s governing board has pledged through a formal resolution approved in December that it will seek to stop collecting the 1.4-mill levy if voters approve the new request.
    The result: Property owners would continue to pay the same amount they have paid since 2009. For an owner of a $100,000 home, the amount would remain $48 a year.
    Bill Green, superintendent of the county Board of Developmental Disabilities, said the agency’s seven-member, all-volunteer board chose to pursue the combination levy to avoid asking voters to renew one levy this year and a second levy next year.
    “We knew the challenge going in, but we believe it’s worth it ...,” Green said.
    NEED
    Stark DD, which employs 643 workers, spends nearly $50 million a year to connect children and adults who have mild, moderate, severe or profound disabilities with the employment, education and support programs and services they need for daily living. Roughly 59 percent of the agency’s revenue comes from local sources, including the $21.8 million generated by the two levies the agency is seeking to combine.
    Without the levy money generated by the proposed levy, Stark DD would exhaust its funds by 2015 because it could not offset the revenue losses from lower property values and state funding cuts, Green said.
    He said the state has begun phasing out the $4.6 million the agency receives in tangible personal property taxes and the $1 million it receives tax equity revenue. The state also is providing $500,000 less in subsidies. Stark DD’s tax levies also will generate $1.1 million less revenue this year because properties countywide are worth less now than six years ago.
    “In 2015, we’ll be losing $7.2 million permanently from our budget,” said Green, who became superintendent in 2010.
    Even with the passage of Issue 1, Green said, the agency can sustain its operations only through 2018 if it doesn’t continue transforming its operations, a process that began in 2010.
    Page 2 of 2 - Under the new business model, the agency has been increasingly relying on contracted private and nonprofit agencies to provide services to clients rather than the agency providing the services itself.
    When the agency started the transition in 2010, 553 adults were enrolled in Stark DD programs. In 2012, 460 adult clients were served directly by Stark DD.
    Green said hiring private providers saves money because the agency’s expenses to directly provide the services are higher than the amount of money it receives from Medicaid as reimbursement. He said the private providers can keep their costs below the reimbursement amount by paying their employees less than Stark DD’s union staff.
    Green said Stark DD also has begun increasing the number of its adult clients employed in the community instead of at one of its three workshops, which annually saves the agency $12,457 per person. In 2010, 356 clients held a job in the community; 384 did in 2012.
    Stark DD also has cut $2.5 million worth of expenses by closing the Cohen-Joliet workshop, changing its bus routes, offering an employees early retirement incentive and eliminating therapy services for adults such as occupation and physical therapies. It also has increased its revenue by more than $4 million grant money since 2010.
    Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or kelli.young@cantonrep.com.
    On Twitter: @kyoungREP