Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and County Council President Dan Brady announced that the county will seek to put an eight-year, 4.7 mill levy on the March 17, 2020 ballot. If passed, the county could have two similar-size health and human services levies that would alternate every four years. Currently, the county has a 3.9 mill health and human services levy, which expires next year and a 4.8 mill levy that expires in 2024. Together, they bring in approximately $244 million per year for health and human services, including funds for MetroHealth, the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board (ADAMHS), the Office of Reentry and many other agencies.
If passed, the county could have two similar-size health and human services levies that would alternate every four years.
The decision to seek an increase is a big step as the county has deliberated on what to do with the health and human services levy for several months. Previously, the Budish administration had recommended a “replacement” levy to county council for the existing 3.9 mill levy. If the replacement levy passed, it would have brought in an additional $12 million per year, due to the higher housing values from last year’s appraisal that happens every six years. However, the county’s HHS levy fund will run out of money before the end of the year. Since the county health and human services levy fund will start running a deficit this year, and since that deficit is expected to grow each year, the county has to decide the best way to keep funding stable. Foster care costs have soared to more than $60 million, the county needs additional funding for drug addiction and behavioral health expenses due to the opioid epidemic and the county is aging. County leaders also have to make a decision now, because the second county health and human services levy that expires in 2024 (the one that is 4.8 mill), does not have as many options to change. According to the Cuyahoga County Office of Budget and Management, homeowners currently receive a 12.5 percent state tax credit on that levy and should that levy be increased, replaced, a replacement with a decrease, or a replacement with an increase (meaning that the increase would be on the new housing values), county homeowners would not only pay the increase, they would also lose the state tax credit. Note that this does not apply if the levy is renewed.
Foster care costs have soared to more than $60 million, the county needs additional funding for drug addiction and behavioral health expenses due to the opioid epidemic and the county is aging.
It is important to note that any money in an Opioid Mitigation Fund from a recent court settlement will be completely separate from the county’s health and human services levy fund. The county has not formally announced how much money will be in this fund nor how the money will be allocated, but we know the funding will be are one-time dollars, and county council has expressed its preference that the opioid mitigation dollars be only used for issues related to the opioid crisis.
If an increased health and human services levy were to pass, that funding would not be available until 2021.
If an increased health and human services levy were to pass, that funding would not be available until 2021, so the county will deliberate the 2020-2021 biennial budget without exact knowledge of how much money will be available. It would be wise to highlight the current spending, the needs that currently exist and the support systems that need to be strengthened, to convince the voters that a new health and human services levy would be worth supporting. Homeowners currently pay approximately $266 per $100,000 of housing valuation for the two health and human services levies, and recently also approved the Cuyahoga County Community College tax increase. If approved, homeowners would pay an additional $28 per $100,000 of housing valuation, for a total of $294 per $100,000 of housing valuation for the two health and human services levies. Combined, they would bring in an estimated $279 million per year, for health and human services in the county.
The Center for Community Solutions will continue to monitor this important issue.