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Leon Children Services Council Sets Tentative Tax Rate, While Determining Needs

A dozen people sit at a semi-circle desk taking notes and talking
Leon County Government
The Leon County Children's Services Council set a tentative .375 millage rate at its regular meeting on June 22, 2021.

Leon County residents can expect their property taxes to go up in the fall — about one year after voters sanctioned a new taxing authority to collect money for children's programs.

The county’s newly formed Children’s Services Council unanimously voted to approve a tentative .375 millage rate Tuesday. Under the new rate, residents who own a $250,000 home would pay $94.75 extra. The council is expected to begin collecting that revenue in November after a final vote in the fall, said Ted Granger, the council's interim administrator.

The council’s proposed rate could bring in an estimated $7.3 million for child welfare programs in future years. Granger says they could begin awarding dollars next year or as late as 2023.

“All of the council members want to begin investing funds from the millage into community grants and community services as soon as possible," Granger said. "The limiting factor here is ensuring that we know exactly what the needs are, what programs are going to serve them, what programs are going to return the best return on investment on tax dollars."

In November 2020, voters approved creating the council, giving it the authority to pass a property tax rate of up to .5 mills. At that rate, the council could generate an estimated $9.3 million in a single year. But that amount still wouldn’t cover all the needs that exist across the county, Granger said.

At the meeting on Tuesday, council members ultimately compromised on setting a lower rate — .375 mills — which is still higher than the lowest rate they could've adopted — .25 mills. The council will collect revenues between November and next September, as it conducts its community needs assessment study to determine how exactly to spend those dollars.

“Collecting a higher millage rate sooner than later provides the council funding it can use in future years,” Granger said.

The council's first official meeting took place in May. It's currently operating on a $400,000 loan from the county government.

Members could decide to address a range of issues, including early learning and after-school programs, delinquency prevention, as well as child hunger and obesity. But they won't know where the dollars will go until a comprehensive needs assessment study is complete, which could take several months, Granger said.

"Those priorities will be decided by the council probably after the needs assessment is done," he said. "The council, at this point, appears to be looking at a very comprehensive needs assessment that hopefully will go down to the zip-code level in terms of identifying the needs, the gaps, the money."

The next regular meeting takes place on July 22. Granger says that's when members could vote to send out an invitation for proposals from organizations that could conduct the needs assessment study, which could cost about $10,000 or up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on how much information is gathered.

“The advantage of requesting a higher millage now is to ensure that as they move forward, they will not have lost revenue and they will be able to invest it in future years into their priority areas.”

Granger says a public hearing will take place on Sept. 8 at 5:15 p.m. A second public hearing will follow 15 days later when the council is also expected to take up a final vote on the millage rate.

Valerie Crowder is a freelance journalist based in Tallahassee, Fl. She's the former ATC host/government reporter for WFSU News. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.