A new group was formed
In 2009 it had become apparent that the Commission did not have sufficient funds to address the Commission’s OST goals, so members of the task force decided to form a separate group outside the Commission structure. Key members included Katie Riley, Susan Bender Phelps, and Susan Stoltenberg. Susan Bender Phelps agreed to be the convener. The group initially called themselves the “Children’s Opportunity Fund Initiative of Washington County” or COFI and held monthly Steering Committee meetings that were open to the public. COFI researched different options for obtaining sustainable funding including pursuing foundation grants, crowd funding, social impact bonds, and seeking a community property levy. It was clear that the most viable option was pursuing a property tax levy. We researched groups that had already obtained levies for their communities; Seattle, San Francisco, Miami/Dade County in Florida, and Portland. We decided to begin gathering support in the community through endorsements. In addition, we realized we needed to conduct polling to determine if voters would support a levy.
Partnering for nonprofit status
A fiscal agreement was signed with Impact Northwest,* a non-profit with 501c3 status. With Impact NW as our fiscal sponsor, COFI could begin to solicit charitable donations through their accounting and online structures. In 2012 we learned that the Commission system was going to be disbanded within a year and effective December 2013 all funds that had been used to benefit local groups would be redirected to the Early Childhood Council. Later, it was determined that some of the funds would be used for older youth and those funds were redirected to the Youth Development Council. The County Commissioners regretfully stated that the county would not be able to replace any of the funding.
In November 2012, Susan Bender Phelps was elected Chair of the Washington County Democrats and was no longer able to devote as much time to Chair COFI. Katie Riley agreed to chair the group. She embarked on an active campaign in 2013 to expand the endorsement process and collect additional donations. An eNewsletter was started in 2013 and articles were printed to profile partner groups who were administering out of school time (OST) programs. Lisa Allen agreed to serve as newsletter editor. Several articles were reprinted in area newspapers.
In 2013 a grant was obtained from Meyer Memorial Trust to conduct polling to assess the public’s response to a potential levy. Bids were obtained from four polling firms and one was selected to conduct the poll. In January 2014, telephone interviews were conducted and 500 registered voters responded to the polling questions. Approximately 58% of respondents stated that they would vote for a levy that supported OST programs. These results were presented in individual meetings with County Commissioners but they were unwilling to place the initiative on the ballot due to other priorities. In June, 2015 a formal presentation and request was made at the County Commissioners regular meeting to place the initiative on the ballot. Approximately 20 supporters, representing partner organizations, attended in support of the initiative. Unfortunately, the Commissioners were not able to take action at that time.