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Polling measures support for children's services

Need for programs increases in county


A poll is being conducted in Washington County to determine if residents are willing to raise their property taxes to support programs to assist at-risk and other children.

The poll was commissioned by Children's Opportunity Fund Initiative of Washington County, an advocacy organization affiliated with Impact NW, a nonprofit organization supporting after-school and other programs in the metropolitan area.

"We are polling to see if residents are aware of the need and what they might support in terms of programs and services," said Katie Riley, the initiative's co-chairwoman.

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 Juy 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.

Riley said her organization will wait for the poll results before deciding where to seek the additional money needed to continue services that will be lost or create new ones. Options include asking the Washington County Commission to provide the funding or place a measure on a ballot to do so. The organization has not ruled out sponsoring an initiative petition for a future ballot measure either, Riley said.

Poll questions suggest some specific ideas are under consideration, however. One county resident who received a call from the pollster told Pamplin Media Group that questions included whether he would support a property tax increase of 20 cents or 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation for such programs and services. Funding 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.

Although the pollster mentioned a November 2016 election date, Riley said that is only one option under consideration.

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.

Other options in the poll included Washington County itself and an independent special district, such as the Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District.

According to the initiative, 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 on the initiative, visit impactnw.org/childrens-opportunity-fund-of-washington-county.

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