Commission asked to put Escambia Children’s Trust on ballot

For decades, Escambia County has wrestled with the impact of poverty on children. The county has been at or near the bottom of state lists for reported child and sexual abuse cases, teen pregnancy, arrests of black males 18 and under, infant mortality, kindergarten and school readiness, length of incarceration…and the list goes on and on.

Inweekly has written dozens of articles on the problem, but no one has come up with a funding mechanism and structure to break the cycle. A group of local business people and child advocates are proposing the creation of the  Escambia Children’s Trust, a Children’s Services Council (CSC).

In a letter to County Commission Chair Steven Barry, Ron Ellington described the trust as a “transformational initiative that can be a material part of helping to really move the dial forward with additional resources to invest in proven new and expanded evidenced/metrics-based programs.”

Florida has nine independent CSCs in the State.  The councils have measured increased reading fluency, kindergarten and school preparedness and high school graduation rates, and improved mental and physical health.  Their communities have experienced decreases in violent crime, teenage pregnancy, child and sexual abuse, infant mortality, and the number of young black males in jail.

The group will present to the Escambia Board of County Commissioners tomorrow at its Committee of the Whole and ask to be placed on the next commission agenda for  a vote to allow a referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot that would create a 0.5 mill property tax that would be the direct funding source for the trust for the next 10 years.

“The Trust is funded by a voter approved 0.5 mill increase in ad valorem taxes on the taxable property value, which would cost a homeowner an average of $40 per year and the owner of any other type property an average of $67 per year,” writes Ellington.

“Obviously larger property owners would pay a larger amount.  Julian MacQueen, for example, the Founder and Chairman of Innisfree Hotels which owns 5 Pensacola Beach hotels and the Airport Hyatt Hotel, would pay an additional $33,000 annually.  But, he knows we have to make this investment in our children at an early age if we are going to really move the dial forward. ”

The 0.5 mills would raise about $8.2 million annually for a term of 10 years before it would go back before the voters for reauthorization.

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2 thoughts on “Commission asked to put Escambia Children’s Trust on ballot

  1. Having worked with both men mentioned in the above comments, I can’t help but believe that each of them would wholeheartedly support such an initiative in Santa Rosa County, should its citizens choose to move forward.

    Further, I suggest that while our school district, city and county leaders, law enforcement officials, and other agencies are doing the best they can with the resources at hand and the criteria for delivery of their services, we would be remiss to think we cannot and should not do more for our youngest citizens. They hold our future in their hands.

  2. Is Julian McQueen who lives in Santa Rosa County proposing also that his county the one where he is a citizen establish a Santa Rosa Children’s Trust? If not, why not. Another big name person on the political committee is Baptist CEO Mark Faulkner who also does not live in Escambia County. He lives in Santa Rosa County too. I believe he lives in a gated community where he would have limited contact with regular citizens. The state law on this matter is clear and unambiguous, “It is the intent of the Legislature that the funds collected pursuant to the provisions of this section shall be used to support improvements in children’s services and that such funds shall not be used as a substitute for existing resources or for resources that would otherwise be available for children’s services.” There is nothing at all in any of the materials provided to date that explain what Escambia County, the School District or the private sector cannot do that this will accomplish. In fact, it is shameful that this political committee is playing to the public’s fears about COVID-19 by now mentioning it in its political propaganda. This is very openly a creative way to increase taxes even more on everyone in Escambia County, adding to the poverty level imposed by the government, with the people making out those who work in the non-profits who expect to get a share of the $28 million more taxed each year, money not subject to the homestead exemption so disproportionately hurting people with lower incomes and homes of lower values. There is nothing in the material that describes current metrics and describes how success will be measured. The list of supporters recently provided to the City Council looks to be largely a list of the Downtown Crowd and Friends of Quint Studer to include people who work for him. Kudos to Council President Jewell Cannada-Wynn who voted NO on last week’s resolution in support of putting this new tax on the ballot . A better approach if our elected officials are looking to increase taxes even more would be for Escambia County to increase its general property tax or Law Enforcement MSTU by 0.5 mils and use the $8.2 million each year to hire more Deputies to put on patrol duty. At $50,000 a Deputy, a number I once heard Sheriff Morgan use, that would be 164 new Deputies. The biggest problem in Escambia County is high crime. Ever since Sheriff David Morgan took office, the county’s crime rate has been “above” the Florida crime rate. Escambia County now has the sixth highest county crime rate in the state, up from #12 when Morgan took office. By comparison, last year, Santa Rosa County (where McQueen and Faulkner live in great safety) became even safer moving from the #60 crime spot (2018) down the #63 crime spots in 2019.

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