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Scaled-Back Children’s Tax In Jackson County Expected To Generate $15M Annually

Mike Sherry
Heartland Health Monitor
This sign at at 63rd Street and Ward Parkway in Kansas City urges voters to enact a new Jackson County sales tax to fund programs for at-risk kids. The down-ballot question passed Tuesday with 59 percent of the vote.

It might be easy for social services supporters in Jackson County to be asking “What if?” in the wake of Tuesday’s election, when residents resoundingly approved creation of a Children’s Services Fund through a new eighth-cent sales tax.

After all, the projected proceeds could have been nearly three times greater, if not for bureaucratic snafus that hampered an effort to help more at-risk kids in the region. But that was not the case in the wake of a victory amid other taxes that went down to defeat.

“We’re pretty excited,” says Lisa Mizell, CEO of the Child Protection Center and a leader of the Jackson Children’s Services Fund Coalition. “I was pretty hopeful that it would pass. We’re very, very grateful to the voters of Jackson County for approving it.”

Garnering 59 percent of the vote, the new tax is expected to generate about $15 million annually for residents of Jackson County. The tax expires in seven years without reapproval from voters, and Mizell says it should begin generating money in April.


A Missouri statute authorized the creation of the fund to assist children and youth through age 18. Services include temporary shelter for abused or emotionally disturbed youth, services for unwed mothers and unmarried parents, outpatient chemical dependency and psychiatric treatment programs, and home- and community-based family intervention programs.

The money also may be used to provide crisis intervention services and prevention programs that promote healthy lifestyles among children and youth and that strengthen families.

The Jackson County executive will appoint an independent, nine-member citizen board to oversee the fund, comprising at least one member from each of the county’s six legislative districts. The board will determine the procedure and timing for distributing the money.

Caleb Clifford, chief of staff for County Executive Frank White, says White supported the tax to create the fund “and takes very seriously his duty to appoint the board who would oversee it.”

Jackson is the eighth Missouri county to approve a Children’s Services Fund tax, joining St. Charles, St. Louis, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin, Boone and Lafayette counties, as well as St. Louis City. The funds generate more than $70 million a year combined.

Funds like these are sorely needed in Jackson and Clay counties, says Robin Winner, another leader of the coalition and executive director of Synergy Services Inc., a Parkville-based mental health agency serving child and adult victims of domestic violence, abuse and neglect.

Winner cites a 2014 study by the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Mid-America Regional Council that concluded Jackson and Clay counties combined had a roughly $80 million shortfall for children’s health services.

The time is right to establish the funds in both counties, she says, “because I think there are so many challenges that children are confronting.” Putting off help is not smart, because “the longer we wait, the worse these problems become.”

Problems in Clay

Clay County was included in the coalition’s initial plans, which called for establishing a quarter-cent sales tax in Jackson and Clay counties. That would have raised about $40 million annually.

But missteps within county government torpedoed the effort in Clay County, and similar confusion led to the scaled-back version that appeared on the Jackson County ballot.

Prudence dictated the scaled-back approach, Legislator Dennis Waits says.

“Anytime you propose something like this,” he says, “I think it’s better to go into it cautiously, because no matter what the need is, you don’t know what they’ll be able to accomplish.”

If it works, Waits says, voters can renew it.

“If it doesn’t work, that’s the time to reconsider it and see if you can do it better,” he says.

There is some disappointment that the tax is smaller than originally envisioned, Mizell says. But, she adds, “You can’t be disappointed at the prospect of getting $15 million for children.”

Jerry LaMartina is a freelance writer living in Shawnee.

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