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Children#8217;s Services seeks 1-mil levy

Lawrence County residents will be asked to kick in a little extra money to help care for abused and neglected children.

The Lawrence County Commission gave its blessing Thursday to a one-mil levy that will be on the March primary ballot to fund foster care services.

“We’ve reached a critical point in our operation,” Lawrence County Department of Jobs and Family Services Director Gene Myers told the commission. “The money is vital to our operation of children services, to allow us to keep children in a safe environment.”

If voters approve it, the levy would generate $626,710 annually to help care for children who have been removed from their homes and must be kept in foster care.

The levy would increase real estate taxes by $1 for every taxable $1,000 assessed on a parcel of property. For instance, if a person owned a $100,000, the taxable amount is $35,000 and the homeowner’s taxes would increase by $35 annually. On a $50,000 house, taxes would be increased by $17.50 annually.

Myers said right now he funds his abused and neglected children’s program out of his other office accounts, but state and federal funding for all human services programs is decreasing.

“Unfortunately over the past few years the Lawrence County Children’s Services Department has seen a dramatic increase in the need for services to help abused and neglected children, while at the same time coping with diminishing revenues,” Myers said. “Despite making significant staff reductions and improving operating efficiency, Children’s Services still needs more funding in order to meet the state-mandated duty of ensuring the safety and well-being of every child in Lawrence County.”

Right now, 97 children are in the county’s care because of abuse and neglect. This is a 25 percent increase since 2002. In 2006, children’s services received 1,083 referrals affecting 2,130 children — an average of three investigations involving six kids every day. Of those referrals, more than half were for suspected neglect, more than a quarter of the investigations were for suspected abuse. Fourteen percent of the referrals involved suspected cases of sexual abuse.

At the same time, Myers said the cost of keeping kids in foster care is also increasing. Since 2001, the cost of keeping Lawrence County Children in foster care has increased by $375,000 to more than $1.5 million.