Last week Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs proposed a $20 million budget increase for children’s programs, and one week later, newly-appointed Orange County District 2 Commissioner Rod Love had a targeted approach to where that additional funding should go.
In a letter sent to Jacobs and the Orange County Board of Commissioners on Monday, Love writes:
“This is a great opportunity to engage in productive deliberations regarding the proposed new $20 million for children’s services. The leadership of Mayor Jacobs in taking this issue head on must be commended as the entire body of the Board will be challenged to ensure that we execute our duties of ensuring we make the best decision for children. Thus, we should seek to advance an innovative approach to address this important county-wide issue. This approach should be consistent with past business logic of the Board in expending tax-payer dollars for specific purposes with defined and measurable outcomes.
We must challenge ourselves to explore a transformative undertaking specific to being purposeful in addressing one of the primary root causes of what ails impoverished communities, particularly where the lives and future of children are concerned. One of the major root causes being, the lack of economic opportunity.
The timing could not be better for the establishment of a critical services funding formula based on community needs. This formula should be inclusive of the proposed $20 million in new funding for children services and the existing $67 million currently allocated for children services, for a total of approximately $90 million. After the establishment of the funding formula, critical need services should be targeted in geographical areas with documented need based on empirical data. For example, 18 zips codes comprised almost one half (42.3%) of all delinquency referrals in Orange County during fiscal year 2017 according to the Department of Juvenile data. It should also be noted that historically there tends to be a geographical correlation between delinquency, child welfare, low performing schools and other related disparities. Several of the identified geographical areas would be designated as Community Empowerment Zones (CEZ) with the specific intent to concentrate children and family services through economic invest in under-served communities. The primary focus areas are identified below.
1. Head Start
2. Child Welfare
3. Juvenile Delinquency
4. Healthcare Disparities
5. Mental / Behavioral Health
Furthermore, we must solidify as a Board the commitment to this initiative by codifying it into policy as a mandate to ensure funding appropriations are based on empirical data listed above and specific outcome objectives. To this end, the level funding level for CEZs should be commensurate with and proportionate to the level of need as indicated by empirical data in the previously identified areas. CEZ services and funding shall be restricted to:
1. Addressing the needs of children and family services in communities where they live;
2. Delivered by local providers and/or organizations (stakeholders, i.e., faith & community-based organizations) with a physical location and established-presence within the CEZ; and,
3. Providers and organizations not meeting the criteria above may partner with local providers within the CEZ. Such a partnership must detail the partnership agreement and clearly delineate the role and responsibility of each partner. Provider partnerships and CEZ eligibility will be assessed in a manner like Orange County’s existing exemplary M/WBE process.
The leadership of the Orange County Board of County Commissioners has proven to be visionary through several well accomplished, celebrated and successful partnership initiatives that have yielded positive results. These initiatives have benefited the citizens of Orange County and continue to fuel the local tourism- and hospitality industries, which are the engines of our local economy. The common denominators have been that of clear purpose, vested partnerships, and a solid economic foundation to launch from.
There is an urgency for us to move forward; however, we must do so in a cautious, but thoughtful manner. This approach must not be singularly in focus, but rather a holistic children, family and community-centered strategy to ensure successful outcomes. It is more difficult to have successful outcomes with children without successful outcomes with families and communities.
This is an opportunity to create a new paradigm of social responsibility and accountability through the creation of CEZs that incentivize local community stakeholders to invest directly or indirectly in the creation of human service jobs. The jobs will benefit disadvantaged youth, families, and communities while positively impacting the local economy, and CEZ in particular. In addition, this places true community responsibility on contractual outcomes that directly improves quality of life issues in communities decimated by poverty and other related issues. This initiative would also strengthen and develop direct community-based leadership and accountability in the delivery of services to children and families.
We all have a vested interest in moving the needle towards a more effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars while avoiding or contributing to a bureaucratic process, having experienced challenges myself as a child growing up in a community with similar characteristics as some of the CEZs and other disadvantaged communities throughout Orange County.”
Jacobs’ proposal and Love’s letter will likely be discussed by the county commission on July 17th, which is the second of two days of hearings on the county budget.