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Fears of increasing youth problems and lack of funding for nonprofit organizations equipped to address these issues are driving some Cole County residents to propose a sales tax increase potentially for the April ballot.

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Jefferson City resident Ed Storey spoke about the "Putting Kids First" initiative during Monday's Jefferson City Council meeting. The initiative was started by residents to develop a Cole County Community Children's Service Fund.

The fund would be created through a 1/4 cent sales tax increase — one penny for every $4 purchase — raising approximately $2.4 million annually, Storey said.

The money would help fund services and programs like crisis intervention, school-based prevention programs, home-based intervention programs, and outpatient substance abuse treatment. The funds could benefit organizations like Capital City CASA, The Salvation Army, Pathways, Special Learning Center and Missouri Valley Big Brothers, Big Sisters that work with children and teenagers.

A nine-member appointed board of Cole County residents would govern the funds, Storey said.

Local organizations offer youth services, Storey said, "but they're limited to how many (youths) they can help because of a lack of funds."

"We're concerned about the children and teenagers in Jefferson City and Cole County," Storey told the News Tribune. "We have hundreds of abused and neglected children, some of them taken away from their parents and their home, and kids needing foster care and kids with mental health issues. This fund would turn these problems around over time and if we don't do this, these problems that are getting worse are going to keep getting (worse)."

About 15 percent of Cole County youths have "seriously considered" suicide within the last year, according to the 2018 Missouri Student Survey, conducted by the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

One in five children with a mental illness receive needed services, Storey said, attributing this number to a recent Missouri Kids Count survey.

"That means you've got five children and you've got to pick one of them to give help to. It's got to be better than that. It has to be better than that," he said, adding drug use in schools has increased. "These funds are what's going to make it better. These funds, when we get this $2.4 million, it's not just for this year, it's for every year. As we keep getting this every year we will actually be able to stop the up trend (of youth drug use), get it level, and make it a downward trend. It's not going to happen over night but it will happen and the way it will happen is to get the people to say, 'Yes, we do want this for the children.'"

"Putting Kids First" organizers plan to gather petition signatures to place the proposed tax increase on the April 2 ballot. While they need 3,000 signatures by Jan. 22, they want to reach 5,000 signatures, Storey said.

Cole County residents would not be the only people providing money to the fund, Storey said. When tourists visit the county for various reasons, they will also contribute to the fund.

Ten Missouri counties have a Community Children's Service Fund, including Boone County, Storey said

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Residents can contact organizers at [email protected]

In other business on Monday, the City Council heard a bill that would set the candidate filing period for the April 2 election. If approved, the filing period would be 8 a.m. Dec. 11 to 5 p.m. Jan. 15.

Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin, Ward 1 Councilman David Kemna, Ward 2 Councilwoman Laura Ward, Ward 3 Councilman Ken Hussey, Ward 4 Councilman Carlos Graham, Ward 5 Councilman Mark Schreiber and City Prosecutor Brian Stumpe will be up for re-election in April 2019.

Voters will also elect a municipal court judge in April.

Since current Municipal Court Judge Cotton Walker will take over his new position as Cole County associate circuit judge in January, Tergin will appoint a temporary judge who will serve Jan. 1 to April 2.

Also on Monday, the council heard a $50,000 supplemental appropriation from the city's general fund to the worker's compensation fund. The city has experienced high medical claims and services over the past several years, depleting the worker's compensation fund balance, according to the bill summary.

The fiscal year 2017 worker's compensation fund balance had a deficit of nearly $16,000, the bill summary noted. The supplemental is required to end the fiscal year 2018 without a deficit fund balance, it adds.

Correction: Cole County residents hoping to place a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the April ballot have until Jan. 22 to collect about 3,000 signatures. The date was incorrect in the original version of this article and has since been corrected in the text above.

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