Our Opinion: Children's Levy is worth renewing
Here's a fairly easy question for Portlanders to answer in the May 15 election: Is it worth 21 cents a day for a typical household to provide support to the community's children, including many who are at risk of abuse or of falling behind in school?
Portland voters have said yes to that query three times before, and we recommend they continue their commitment by renewing the Portland Children's Levy for five more years.
The funding method for the Children's Levy is less than ideal. It's one more community priority being tacked onto homeowners' property tax bills. But within Oregon's two-legged tax system, it's about the only choice available to raise enough money to make a real difference in children's lives.
And if it weren't making a difference, we wouldn't be recommending that voters support this levy renewal. However, the Children's Levy, which appears on the May ballot as Measure 26-197, has a documented record of success. Since it was first approved in 2002, the levy has supported several dozen programs that help children be more successful in school and life.
Among the priorities are early childhood programs, child abuse intervention and prevention, hunger relief, after-school programs, youth mentoring and foster care. Thousands of children are touched by these services, and the results are tracked.
Julie Young, a community volunteer who serves on the Children's Levy's allocation committee, notes that the money is directed toward programs that are based on solid evidence of their effectiveness. If an approach isn't working, or an organization has not demonstrated the capacity to deliver, then the funding isn't continued. In addition, the levy comes with a mandated safeguard: an annual audit that ensures administrative expenses do not exceed 5 percent of revenues.
Young and other members of the allocation committee also have made a conscious effort to spend the dollars in an equitable manner. In recent years, the levy has focused to a greater degree on children of color and neighborhoods east of 82nd Avenue.
The cost of the $15 million-per-year levy isn't insignificant, but neither is it onerous. The median value of a home in Portland is about $380,000, but the median assessed value, due to property tax caps, is less than half of that, at $181,260. That means this levy, which is set at 41 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, will cost the typical homeowner about $75 a year, or a little more than $6 per month.
The levy has been championed over the years by city Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is leaving his council seat after more than 18 years. Saltzman saw gaps in the safety net for children in 2002, and the Children's Levy has made a measurable difference even as Portland has grown and poverty has shifted to different neighborhoods. Portland residents should continue this source of funding and continue to help feed children, protect them from abuse, and keep them in school.
We recommend a yes vote on Measure 26-197.