2-mill levy would raise $3.2M for MRDD

Holly Schoenstein

Renewal would help Happy Day School; many say its a go

Credit: DKS Editors

Students play at Happy Day School, which is funded by the Portage County MRDD board. The board levy is up for renewal on the Nov. 4 ballot. Holly Schoenstein | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Election Day is nearing, and among a host of local issues that voters will see on the ballot is Issue 35, a 2-mill renewal levy for the Portage County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

If it passes, the levy will provide $3.2 million – one-sixth of the revenue MRDD gets from property taxes within the county. This levy, which was last passed in 2003, is the largest of six that provide 70 percent of MRDD’s funding. Medicaid and the state of Ohio provide the other 30 percent of the funding.

MRDD levies fund, in part, programs and services such as those at Happy Day School in Ravenna, where three-and-a-half-year-old Drew Jarvis, who has Down syndrome, has been attending since he was three months old.

If the levy does not pass, Drew’s grandfather, Bob Martin of Brimfield, said it would be devastating.

“There are some children here that really need this place. (Drew) could get by, but a lot of people couldn’t,” Martin said. “For a lot of these kids, I don’t know how their parents would make it without this place.”

About 200 children, from birth to age 22, attend Happy Day School. About 160 of its students have been diagnosed with some sort of disability or delay.

Gail McAlister, director of children’s services at Happy Day School, said the funds from the levy will allow it to continue operating as it has.

“These children, whether they have a delay or not, have a right to the same accesses that you and I do,” McAlister said. “They have a right for hope. They have a right for a future. They have a right to every opportunity to get as far as they possibly can get, and I don’t think we’re asking the voters for anything that they haven’t always been supporting.”

But many are confident that the levy will pass.

“The people of Portage County have always been supportive of this program, and I think they’ll pass it,” Patrick Macke, superintendent of Portage County MRDD, said.

Even though the levy is a renewal, it should not be taken for granted, especially with the current state of the economy, Macke said. But, nonetheless, he is concerned, with so much riding on it.

Revenues from the levy will be deposited into the general fund and provide services for 800 people within the county. About 70 percent of MRDD’s expenses relate to personnel, including wages for employees. The funds also pay for programs and transportation for those who attend Portage Industries in Ravenna or who use other residential care services.

Chris Smeiles, president of the Portage County Board of County Commissioners, said he would tell voters who are against this levy that he understands their tight family budgets. But, he said, funding for MRDD is necessary to provide services to those who need them.

And State Rep. Kathleen Chandler, D-68th, agrees.

“I think that (MRDD) operated on a very modest income, and they’re very efficient with their operations. And I think we get good value for the dollar that we spend,” Chandler said. “It’s just allowing them to continue to provide the services.”

If it passes, the average homeowner would pay $70 for every $100,000 of appraised value for the tax years 2009-2013. The levy first passed in 1989, and renewal levies have passed on the first try almost every time they were on the ballot.

Contact public affairs reporter Holly Schoenstein at [email protected].