Local politics: Funding for developmentally disabled historically strong

Michael Curtin
Superintendent Jed Morison

Franklin County voters will decide 39 local questions across 16 jurisdictions on Nov. 7, but only one countywide issue.

The question on all ballots is Issue 4, a proposed 10-year renewal of a 3.5-mill property tax levy for the county's Board of Developmental Disabilities.

The levy is one of two supporting the agency. The other, also at 3.5 mills, was approved in 2008 as a permanent levy. Combined, they generate $188.4 million annually – four-fifths of the agency's revenue. State and federal funds, especially Medicaid, provide the rest.

In Franklin County, about two-thirds of property-tax distributions support school districts. The second largest distribution, at 9 percent, funds programs for the developmentally disabled.

For example, in 2016, the owner of a $100,000 home in the Columbus school district paid $2,615 in property taxes. Of that, $1,769 went to Columbus schools and $244 went to the Board of Developmental Disabilities, according to the county auditor.

County taxpayers have never rejected a levy to support those with intellectual and physical disabilities. Since the first proposal in 1962, voters have approved 12 levy requests. Over six decades, raising money to support people with disabilities has gone from bake sales to the No. 2 priority among all property taxes.

The story began July 11, 1950, when 14 women met at the home of Virginia Mulbarger to discuss getting help for parents of children with mental retardation. Four of the women, including Mulbarger, had such children, according to a history compiled by Jed Morison, superintendent of the Board of Developmental Disabilities.

Without public-supported education and training centers, the only options available to most families were to keep their disabled children at home or place them in state institutions, Morison said.

Their efforts led to creation of a mentally disabled children's program within the Franklin County Welfare Board, and paved the way for the 1962 levy, at 0.3-mill for five years. It passed with 62 percent of the vote. In 1966, voters renewed the levy for another five years, with 70 percent of the vote. In 1970, it was replaced with a 0.7-mill, 10-year levy. The pattern was set.

In October 1967, the Ohio legislature enacted a law creating county boards of mental retardation throughout the state. In 1974, lawmakers guaranteed educational services for all children.

In 1991, the legislature broadened the definition of developmental disability to include physical as well as intellectual limitations, greatly expanding the number of those eligible for services. Except for infants, eligibility is determined by having a disability that originated before age 22, is expected to last indefinitely, and results in at least three functional limitations.

Before the definition change, 97 percent of those served had intellectual disabilities. Today, 51 percent have an intellectual disability; 49 percent have a physical disability without an intellectual disability. In 2016, the agency served more than 20,000 infants, preschoolers, children, adults and seniors.

Another dramatic change has been the effort, largely successful, to integrate children into regular schools and adults into regular work settings. To fulfill its mission, the agency works with more than 100 area organizations.