Compelling Arguments - The Missourian: Opinion

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Compelling Arguments

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Posted: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 6:32 pm

If merit was the only consideration, a small tax increase to help the developmentally disabled in the county would pass easily.

In the current tough economic and anti-tax climate, it’s probably a long shot.

Last week Developmental Services of Franklin County (DSFC) successfully lobbied the county commission to place Proposition A on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The property tax measure would increase the agency’s funding from its current level of 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 20 cents.

The tax hike would generate an additional $1.7 million a year for the agency which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Remarkably, the tax rate for the agency has remained the same for its entire existence. That is perhaps the best argument for passing what amounts to a fairly small tax increase.

The demand of the services that DSFC provides has increased substantially since 1987 when it was formed under Senate Bill 40 — outpacing the concomitant rise in the county’s assessed valuation.

Of course that was true last year when the agency attempted to pass a similar tax increase. The proposal failed by a vote of 5,485 to 6,712.

To be successful, proponents of Prop A are going to have to educate voters as to the need for additional services and make the case that they have been good stewards of the taxpayers’ money in the past.

They can make a convincing case on both fronts.

But they also are going to need to inform disinterested voters on the mission of DSFC and its very important work which, sadly, goes unnoticed by many people.

If you aren’t personally affected by someone with a developmental disability, you may not even be aware the organization exists much less the very important work it does.

If you are a parent of someone with a developmental disability, you probably appreciate the critical assistance that an organization like DSFC provides.

A developmental disability is a condition such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, or a similar condition diagnosed before the age of 22.

DSFC offers programs as a direct service and also provides services indirectly by supporting community-based programs and agencies. DSFC provides early intervention programs, residential opportunities and supported employment opportunities through the county’s two sheltered workshops which employ about 240 people.

DSFC works with the Missouri Department of Mental Health, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Missouri First Steps programs which are feeling the funding squeeze created by a lingering recession.

Demand for the type of services that DSFC provides has been on the rise for years. The result is that the agency is coping with overcrowding at its facilities and waiting lists for its programs.

DSFC officials say they are only able to serve about a third of the 1,300 individuals known to have developmental disabilities. They want to serve more people.

DSFC has a track record of providing exemplary service to those with developmental disabilities in our county. The need for additional funding is real.

But is that enough to convince voters to say yes to a small tax hike in these trying economic times?

/opinion