Commission will ask clerk to verify Putting Kids First signatures

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 | 5:49 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Boone County Commission intends to ask the county clerk to validate more than 8,200 signatures collected on behalf of Putting Kids First, a multi-agency initiative that hopes to place a quarter-cent sales tax on the November ballot to generate money for children's mental health services.

Boone County Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller said the commission has the discretion to waive signature validation and simply add the tax proposal to the ballot, but commissioners don't want to set a precedent of doing so.

Mental health tax

PETITION LANGUAGE: Shall Boone County, solely for the purpose of establishing a Community Children’s Services Fund (authorized under RSMO 67.1775) for the purpose of providing services to protect the well-being and safety of children and youth nineteen years of age or less and to strengthen families, be authorized to levy a sales tax of one-quarter of a cent in the County of Boone?

CONSUMER IMPACT: A quarter-cent tax would add 2.5 cents to the cost of a $10 purchase. 

POTENTIAL BENEFITS: Based on sales tax collection in 2009, the tax generates an estimated $5.4 million annually. Under state law the funds could provide crisis intervention, respite care, outpatient psychiatric or substance abuse treatment, individual, group or family counseling, temporary shelters for the abused, neglected or homeless and transitional living spaces for children ages 0-19.

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According to an announcement on its website, Putting Kids First collected 8,233 signatures from people who support putting the tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot. The initiative needed to collect 6,703 valid signatures by July 31, but organizers surpassed the legal minimum and submitted the petition to County Clerk Wendy Noren last week.

Noren said late last week that she hasn't looked at any of the Putting Kids First signatures and that her office is "awash in a sea of petitions." She said she is under a legal deadline to validate signatures on petitions for statewide ballot issues.

Miller said she is confident there will be enough time for the clerk's office to validate the Putting Kids First signatures in time to get the measure on the November ballot. The commission was scheduled to conduct a first reading Tuesday night of a resolution calling for the signatures to be verified.

"It has to be on the November ballot because the petition that 8,233 people signed said November," said Christine Corcoran, director of regional operations for Lutheran Family and Children Services and one of the coordinators of Putting Kids First.

Corcoran said agencies and people who support the initiative will continue educating the public on the need to provide mental health services for children and adolescents as well as how money generated from the tax will be spent if it is approved.

Two previous efforts by the disbanded Boone County Mental Health Board to establish a sales tax for mental health services failed. A one-eighth cent sales tax was rejected by 72 percent of  voters in 1994. Attempts to fill the gap in mental health funding were discussed in 2007, but no proposal was presented to the public for a vote.

The Boone County Commission meeting begins 7 p.m. and will be held in Commission Chambers at Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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