Saturday, November 18, 2017
News Roundup

With funding issues looming, Hillsborough Children's Board looks to raise profile

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It gets $30 million a year in property taxes and finances programs serving 100,000 children and families in Hillsborough County.

But when the Children's Board of Hillsborough County asked residents for their opinions of the organization's work, most of them had this response:

Who?

Less than 30 percent of 500 Hillsborough residents surveyed late last year had heard of the Children's Board. Only 4 percent of those who knew of the public agency had received services from it.

Translation: The Children's Board could have a hard time drumming up public support in another year of declining county revenue.

And that means "there is a great need for a well-designed communications campaign," according to a report done for the Board by Bendixen & Amandi International research fund.

Luanne Panacek, the board's executive director, said she was heartened that 30 percent of residents had heard about her organization. Five years ago, a similar survey showed less than 5 percent did, prompting the agency to require the organizations it finances to display the Children's Board logo.

The agency levies a property tax rate of 50 cents for every $1,000 of taxable assessed value. That amounts to about $42 a year for a homesteaded property with a taxable value of $95,000.

"When I talk to people and they don't know who we are, the first thing I say is, 'Do you own a house?'" Panacek said. "And I say, 'Do you ever notice the last thing listed there?' "

Children's Board spokesman Dan Casseday said the agency had never gotten around to selling itself.

"We've historically promoted our programs and not focused on branding the Children's Board," he said. "It shows us we have a great opportunity to let residents of the county know that, for about $3 a month per household, they're getting millions of dollars worth of services to children and families."

Panacek said the board doesn't have the money to embark on an advertising campaign, but plans to work with other agencies to run commercials that "pull people into services."

Hillsborough voters created the Children's Board more than 20 years ago to be the county's leading advocate for kids.

Half of the 10-member board is appointed by the governor. The other seats are, according to its bylaws, filled with representatives from the school district, the County Commission, the courts and a governmental social service agency.

This year, the board lost $1.3 million in tax revenue. That left the agency doling out much less money to 100 local organizations, most of which got 18 percent cuts.

The board's $35 million budget, down from $42.4 million in the previous year, is financed largely by property taxes ($30 million) and also receives funding from partner agencies, grants and investment income.

Panacek said one big downside to the Children's Board flying under the radar is that few residents know about free programs they could be getting. That includes free child safety classes and tax preparation services offered at the board's five centers.

"It's really important to us for people to know more about services," she said.

The survey commissioned by the Children's Board also found that county residents support the agency's work — even if they don't know about the agency itself.

Improving services for children and families was the top priority of 56 percent of surveyed residents.

That was higher than the 48 percent who said reducing county taxes was their top goal.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.

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