Need for programs increases in county, experts say

Washington County voters could be asked to vote on a property tax levy to fund non-school programs for young people in the November 2016 election.

A recent poll commissioned by the Children’s Opportunity Fund Initiative of Washington County found most voters would approve such a tax.

“There is strong support for a levy that would create sustainable funding of positive programs for children and youth during non-school time,” said COFI chairwoman Katie Riley.

The poll found 57 percent of county voters would support a levy that guarantees 95 percent of the funding goes to quality early childhood, after-school and summer programs that promote academic achievement, child abuse prevention and child hunger programs, as well as support for children in foster care.

Support drops to 63 percent if opponents argue property taxes should not be raised because of the economy.

Poll questions suggested the levy could increase property taxes 20 cents or 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Based on the results, Riley says her organization will now explore the possibility of placing such a measure on the 2016 general election ballot. Options include asking the Washington County Commission to refer such a measure to the ballot or an initiative petition drive.

This poll of 502 likely 2016 county voters was conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research between January 12 and 15. It used a mix of landline and cellphone dialing, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent. The poll was financed by COFI supporters and a grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust.

COFI is a not-for-profit advocacy organization. According to Riley, the need for additional programs and services is increasing in the county, in part because the state is changing how it funds some of the existing ones. For example, the 2013 Oregon Legislature agreed to focus funding on early childhood development programs, reducing the resources for older children beginning in July 2014.

“Research shows that if you don’t continue providing services to children, a lot of the early gains can be lost, especially with children who are at risk,” said Riley.

Poll questions suggest some specific ideas are under consideration, however. One county resident who received a call from the pollster told Pamplin Media Group questions about iFunding options included early childhood education, child abuse prevention, hunger reduction and after-school child care and other programs.

The pollster also gauged the reaction to pro and con arguments for such a measure. Potential arguments in favor included too many Washington County children who are abused, neglected and going hungry. One argument against the measure was its cost during tough economic times.

Riley said her organization is looking at the existing Portland Children’s Levy as a possible model for the measure. It is a five-year property levy that has been approved twice by Portland voters to provide millions of dollars every year to nonprofit organizations that provide services to children. The funds are distributed by an organization that accepts and evaluates funding requests.

According to COFI’s website, research reveals that child abuse in Washington County increased by 77 percent from 2000 to 2010. During that same time, the number of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches increased from 22 percent to 40.3 percent of students. In 2012, 42 percent of Washington County students qualified.

For more information about the initiative, visit

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