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The proposed levy would raise $125 million over five years to expand and support after-school programs for kids.

PMG FILE PHOTO: - Kids participate in an after-school program for girls run by Forest Grove-based nonprofit Adelante Mujeres.Washington County voters may soon be asked to vote on a ballot measure aimed at expanding and supporting early education, after-school and summer programs for kids.

Washington County Kids, a group advocating for additional support for such programs, and its political action committee are asking the county Board of Commissioners to put a local levy on the November ballot.

During a presentation on the proposal Tuesday, July 21, Susan Bender Phelps, president of Friends of Washington County Kids, told county commissioners that families' access to affordable early education and after-school programs fall well short of the need.

She said 82% of kids under the age of five living in poverty in the county do not have access to child care, which is expensive and in short supply. That lack of access disadvantages kids' learning and forces parents to make tough decisions, Bender Phelps said. Parents may need to change jobs, take fewer shifts or stop working altogether to care for their kids, which perpetuates a cycle of poverty.

"The needs are very complex, especially now in a time of (COVID-19)," Bender Phelps said, adding that people do not yet fully know how the pandemic will affect their need to care for their children when school begins again in the fall.

The levy would cost homeowners 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value if passed in November. The average homeowner would pay $104 in the 2021-22 fiscal year, the first year of the proposed five-year levy.

In total, the levy would raise more than $125 million to expand and support existing early education, after school and summer programs.

The county would administer the program at an estimated cost of about $1.6 million, working with schools and other groups to provide kids programs.

Members of Washington County Kids have said the funding mechanism and service is modeled off the Portland Children's Levy.

"Give Washington County voters the choice," Bender Phelps said.

On Tuesday, multiple county commissioners expressed reluctance to put the levy on the ballot while people are still reeling from the economic impacts of the pandemic.

"You've done a great job of laying out the need — that's not the issue," said Commissioner Roy Rogers, who represents District 3. "My concern is there's only so much you can do. Three Metro bond measures have been passed; we've had two (county levies); (corporate activities tax) at the state level. Frankly, people only have so much money."

Interim County Administrator Stephen Rhodes said county staff have concerns over the proposal's lack of identifying which facilities would be used for additional children's programs. He added the levy could reduce the amount of money that comes in for other levies due to tax compression limits.

Board Chair Kathryn Harrington said she was leaning toward supporting the levy, despite some reservations.

The Board of Commissioners will decide whether to approve a final proposal at its meeting on July 28, and commissioners could vote to place the levy on the November ballot at their Aug. 4 meeting.


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