modesto-abety_web.jpgVoters in Miami-Dade County on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to make funding for The Children’s Trust permanent, approving a ballot initiative reauthorizing the organization’s funding by a margin of 85.6 percent to 14.4 percent.

The vote ensures that the trust will continue to fund more than 300 programs aimed at children in Miami-Dade, including a 211 parent hotline, healthcare teams and after-school programs in county public schools, early childhood programs and summer camps.

“It was a big win, which is really quite extraordinary,” Children’s Trust Chairman David Lawrence said on Wednesday. “It sends, I think, a message, not only about The Children’s Trust, and the good job that it has done, but also about what is possible even in these tough economic times.”

Lawrence said the wide victory margin spoke to the community’s confidence in the work the Trust has done, and the way it has managed its finances.

The trust is funded with $0.50 for every $1,000 in assessed ad valorem property taxes, and has an annual budget of just over $100 million. The funding formula was put in place in 2002, with a requirement that it be revisited in five years.

Headed by Trust CEO Modesto Abety, a well-respected children’s advocate, the trust’s focus on creating a “transparent” operation apparently resonated with voters.

The trust spent 91.5 percent of its budget during the last fiscal year on programs, and eight percent on administration.

“I genuinely believe people will help and support and pay for things if they trust how the money is spent, if they have confidence that real gains will be made and that real gains will be measured,” Lawrence said. “I think it was a wonderful moment for the community.”

Some supporters had worried about the initiative’s chances of passing when it wound up on the back page of the ballot. Some supporters feared voters might not notice it if they failed to flip over the form.

The Children’s Trust PAC raised more than $1 million to push for the trust’s reauthorization, and to educate voters about the ballot placement. Supporters, including the Miami Science Museum, sent out a flurry of emails Monday urging voters to go to the polls.

In the end, the vote wasn’t close, with the initiative receiving 144,981 out of 169,355 votes.

The idea of creating a countywide system of support services for children was first proposed in 1988, though voters at that time rejected funding it through tax revenues.

Lawrence, the former publisher of The Miami Herald, revived the idea in 2002, raising money for a campaign that won the overwhelming approval of voters after the referendum's language was expanded to include all Miami-Dade children, rather than just at-risk kids.

Tuesday’s ballot initiative enjoyed broad, bi-partisan support, including support from Miami-Dade NAACP President Bishop Victor Curry, former Gov. Jeb Bush, and all six South Florida Congressional candidates from both political parties.

The trust was also supported by the county's mayor, Carlos Alvarez, and a long list of prominent donors and supporters.

Photo: Modesto Abety