The March 4 ballot will include a 1-mill levy to provide funding for Fairfield County Protective Services (FCPS).
The FCPS responds to reports of children and elderly being abused. Due to insufficient funding, the agency only investigates 40 percent of the 4,000 reports of child abuse it receives a year.
The proposed levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $2.56 per month.
Local spending for FCPS has been essentially frozen since 1999, however, according to the FCPS, reported child abuse has doubled since 2000 and cases of elder abuse have tripled in that time to 600 per year.
Fairfield County residents contribute less for protective services than residents in most neighboring counties. In Fairfield County, the per capita contribution is $11.60, in Franklin County the contribution is $90.50, and in Licking County the contribution is $21.94.
Over the last several years, FCPS applied for several state grants, which they received. These grants enabled the agency to maintain its 40 percent investigation rate for children.
As for the remaining 60 percent of reported abuse, "you pray a lot," said Michael Orlando, FCPS director.
Before turning to the voters, FCPS created a panel of 120 community members to provide the agency feedback regarding its operations and programming. The agency also achieved national accreditation in 2006.
Every time the agency answers a call reporting abuse, the caller is thoroughly questioned to determine the degree of danger to the child. Because of lack of funding only reports of children "in serious immediate danger" will be investigated, Orlando said.
Even foster families trained to expect hurt children are often surprised by the extent of damage. Two boys rescued by the FCPS as toddlers only knew to eat off the floor like dogs. The animal and human feces caked on the two-year-old’s body required him to be transported to an emergency room.
FCPS has investigated all reports of senior abuse, however as the number of incidents continues to rise, that may not remain true.
In one case of elder abuse, a pizza driver called FCPS after delivering an order to an 84-year old woman in a soiled nightgown. She was admitted to the hospital for treatment of lesions. Her nephew, her designated power of attorney, had not checked on her for over six months.
"Fairfield County could become a fertile ground for others (who prey on children or the elderly)," Orlando said. "There is very little to stop them at this point."
With the additional funding FCPS plans to reach families before the abuse escalates.
"It’s much more expensive to (help older victims) than when the abuse starts when they are very young. A high percentage of folks in prison or on trial were terribly abused as children and did (to their victims) what was done to them." Orlando said. "That’s not the type of community we are trying to create."
"The cost to the county in ignoring the child abuse problem is much greater," said Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen. "Voters can pay now or pay later. The (sooner) that intervention can occur, the less likely they will gravitate toward crime (or drug abuse)."
In addition to increased population, part of the reason for the growing number of abuse cases is an influx of illegal drugs to Fairfield County. FCPS receives more and more reports of teens as young as 13 overdosing on heroin, Orlando said.