Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Butler Children Services may ask more

Agency making changes after criticisms

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - The Butler County Children Services Board, working on reforms to become more open and responsive to the community and the families it serves, might ask voters to approve a levy increase in November.

At the very least, the board will place a five-year, 2-mill levy renewal on the November ballot.

The levy, which generates $7.7 million a year, expires at the end of 2003.

Whether the board will ask for a levy increase will depend on the results of an extensive internal review of its programs and finances and on a paid consultant's report on the public's perception of the agency.

"Should we find our costs for services need to increase, we'll have to take it to the voters and justify it," said Hall Thompson, board chairman. "At the very minimum, we need a levy renewal. We cannot function without a renewal."

Children Services, which protects abused, neglected and dependent children, has experienced spotty success with levies in recent years.

At a time when the agency was severely criticized for unnecessarily removing children from their families, placing too many children in out-of-county foster homes and being unresponsive to the public, voters rejected the agency's 2-mill levy renewal in November 1998, and its 2.4-mill combined renewal and additional levy in May 1999.

In November 1999, voters finally approved a 2-mill levy renewal - but only after Children Services' top two administrators resigned.

The board hired Jann Heffner as executive director last November.

County officials expect Heffner, who had been executive director for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in Columbus, to continue the agency's overhaul.

E-mail skemme@enquirer.com

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