Government & Politics

Tax for youth services in KC area would raise millions, if voters approve

Programs that help troubled youth would get millions, if voters in Jackson and Clay counties approve a new sales tax in November.
Programs that help troubled youth would get millions, if voters in Jackson and Clay counties approve a new sales tax in November.

Jackson County voters will decide in the November election whether to approve an eighth-cent sales tax that would raise millions of dollars to support social services programs for children and youth.

Clay County voters also may get the chance to decide on a quarter-cent tax being proposed there. Election officials were still verifying petition signatures on Monday but expected to finish in time for County Commission consideration before the Aug. 30 deadline for getting issues on the ballot.

Proponents of the tax had asked for a quarter-cent tax in Jackson County as well. But the county Legislature on Monday voted 8-0 to cut the amount in half and have it run seven years, after which it would be up for possible renewal.

Kansas City’s areawide planning agency, the Mid-America Regional Council, issued a report in 2014 advocating the tax as a way for counties to replace dwindling funds.

Advocates for youth services have widely and publicly discussed ballot measures for area counties since then, but the measures have not received broad public discussion and are only now coming before county officials for consideration.

Private polling suggests that voters are supportive of the proposed taxes, said Jennifer Hurst, spokeswoman for the Jackson County Children’s Services Fund Coalition and its Clay County counterpart.

Many community leaders and groups, including the United Way, have given their support.

“Everybody’s supporting this because it’s good,” said Crystal Williams, who heads the Jackson County Legislature and is an honorary committee member of the coalition.

State law allows counties to raise money through a special sales tax up to a quarter cent to pay for counseling, temporary housing, drug dependency treatment and other services for youth 19 years old or younger.

Five counties have set up funds in the 12 years since St. Charles County approved the first children’s services tax in 2004.

Lafayette is the only county near Kansas City to have done so, approving an eighth-cent tax in 2005.

The money raised goes to nonprofit agencies that work on issues such as homelessness, drug treatment and mental health. Dozens of agencies would qualify in the Kansas City area, supporters say.

A board appointed by the county executive or presiding county commissioner would decide which agencies get the money.

Local proponents estimated the tax could raise $12.5 million to $15 million annually in Jackson County, and $7 million to $10 million in Clay County. That would be a big boost for agencies that qualified for the funds, supporters say.

“It can be an enormous game changer,” said Lisa Mizell, chief executive officer at the Child Protection Center in Kansas City.

The one-eighth-cent sales tax in St. Charles County raised $3.9 million in 2005, its first year, and $6.8 million in 2015.

Mike Hendricks: 816-234-4738, @kcmikehendricks