A 2017 study by First Steps Kent found more than half of Kent County children eligible for early childhood services are not receiving those services. Courtesy First Steps Kent
Kent County residents will vote this November on whether to approve a six-year millage to support early childhood development services.
The Kent County Board of Commissioners voted 13-5 June 28 to allow the issue on the ballot.
The millage, which would run from 2019-24, would allow the county to levy 0.25 of a mill, which is equal to 25 cents per $1,000 of the taxable value on all real and personal property subject to taxation.
The first year’s amount levied is estimated at $5.7 million, according to county finance officials.
With a median home value of $181,000 and a median taxable value of $100,000, the median cost to taxpayers would be $25 per year, according to the proposal.
The money will go to programs overseen by First Steps Kent, a public-private partnership that works to strengthen and coordinate early childhood services in Kent County, which is requesting the help to fund a gap in prevention and early intervention services.
The organization did an analysis in 2017 of gaps in services and how the millage funding would benefit those services.
Those gaps mean more than half — about 22,000 — of Kent County children eligible for early childhood development services are not receiving those services.
The vote came after passionate discussion over the past couple of weeks from commissioners at the Finance and Physical Resources Committee and the Legislative and Human Resources Committee prior to their votes to send the issues to the full board of commissioners.
Commissioner Robert Womack, who said he normally doesn’t talk quite so much during the meetings, had a lot to say on behalf of the underserved children in the district he represents.
He said many of those children can go through life feeling unwanted, which can lead them down negative paths.
“There is a big divide between what we really know about the full communities we serve and what they need,” he said.
He said federal and state funding seems inadequate for the county’s youngest residents.
“We were elected by the people of Kent County not to short-change those kids,” he said.
Commissioner Betsy Melton called the state’s poor elementary reading skills a “crisis.”
Commissioner Stan Ponstein, who said he was a school board member for more than 21 years, said there is “plenty” of money already going toward education, but it is not being utilized well.
“The big thing is that we don’t prioritize education,” he said, adding it should be a lifelong endeavor, from conception to death.
“We don’t need to keep asking taxpayers for more money, because the people who can’t afford it are going to be hit,” Ponstein said.
“Just doing the same old stuff with more money is not working.”
Commissioner Tom Antor also voted no, saying there is enough money going toward education that is being “misused.”
Commissioner Stan Stek, who sits on the millage committee that recommended the proposal to the board, said the group is “convinced” the return on investment will be worth the tax.
“It’s in everyone’s best interest to invest in all Kent County children,” said Lew Chamberlin, co-chair of the First Steps.
“Studies show that investing in early childhood programs saves money in the long run and ensures better outcomes for health, education and employment. We are thankful for the county’s support of this proposal and for giving Kent County voters the opportunity to make the decision to invest in early childhood this November,” he said.
A subsequent motion during the meeting to raise the millage rate to 0.3 from 0.25 failed.