Juvenile Welfare Board will float idea of higher tax rate

The Juvenile Welfare Board, which collects millions in property taxes every year to help at-risk youth, is considering asking for more money from Pinellas County homeowners.

But before its board members commit to asking for an increase, they will hold two hearings to weigh how homeowners feel about paying more.

As property values have continued to fall, the agency has collected fewer property tax dollars — about $20 million less over the past five years, JWB officials say. Darkening the picture is the fact that an $18 million emergency spending fund established three years ago is expected to go dry in 2012.

This year the agency, which served about 42,000 children in 2010, is reducing its budget by about $10.5 million, half of that in programs.

The agency expects that about 500 fewer kids and teens will benefit from its programs next year.

The agency's proposed $49 million budget won't be finalized until September. Increasing the tax rate would allow the agency to collect about $9 million more in 2011-2012.

The current tax rate is about $0.7915 for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable value, or about $79.15 for a home valued at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption.

An increase to $0.95, which the JWB is considering, would increase the homeowner's bill to $95.

The agency last raised the tax rate in 2009 after property values fell 8.5 percent the year before.

Among the savings the agency plans to see through cuts are:

• $600,000 in three truancy programs: a center for truant school children and two court programs designed to give a reprieve to kids who have been truant or have been in other trouble.

• $350,000 for post-detention services for first-time drug offenders 14 years old or younger.

• $134,000 in funding to Carlton Manor, a therapeutic group home that treats dozens of emotionally disturbed boys ages 6 through 16.

• $250,000 in funding for a countywide emergency response team for at-risk youth.

The programs that are being cut or eliminated were not working well, officials said. Some will be replicated in other forms through new partnerships with nonprofit agencies, said Lisa Sahulka, the JWB director of contract management.

For instance, the center for truant teens will be re-created for about $100,000 at Bethel Community Church in St. Petersburg.

"What we are looking for is how to provide better services with less money," Sahulka said.

Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or lperez@sptimes.com.

. Fast facts

If you go

The JWB is hosting two community forums to gather public input about its 2011-2012 budget. The agency is considering increasing the property tax rate, currently set at 0.7915.

• Thursday, 5:30 p.m.

Pinellas Park Performing Arts Center

4951 78th Ave. N

• Tuesday, 5:30 p.m.

Calvary Chapel Palm Harbor

32676 U.S. 19 N

Juvenile Welfare Board will float idea of higher tax rate 06/14/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 4:19pm]

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