Thursday, December 14, 2000
Steamboat Springs Local advocates for affordable child care in Routt County may put a question on the November 2001 ballot asking residents to pay a total of almost $2 million in taxes for quality child care.
The issue was raised at a First Impressions board meeting Thursday where community leaders were invited to share their view on a tax.
Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak, who is on the First Impressions board, said the cost of providing good child care is too high.
It costs $49 a day for one child to receive quality child care, Stahoviak said. But the highest rate that county child-care providers can charge to keep customers is $28 a day.
Because customers can only afford to pay $28 a day, child-care facilities can't hire enough employees, which means facilities are often under-staffed, the commissioner said.
Stahoviak said employees at child-care facilities are paid $7 to $8 an hour without benefits, which means high turnover.
First Impressions estimated that Routt County has 500 children ranging in age from 5 years or younger receiving child care. At $49 per child per day, the group estimated that it will cost about $5.6 million a year to provide quality child care to all of those children.
Stahoviak said quality child care can only occur with a low child-care-provider-to-children ratio and a highly qualified staff.
With parents paying an average of $28 per child per day, equaling $3.6 million a year, and $300,000 county child-care facilities receive from government subsidizes and funding, parents are getting $3.9 million worth in child care.
To pay for "quality" child care (costing $5.6 million), another $1.7 million needs to be raised.
The extra money would go to hiring employees and improving salaries in hopes of getting agencies at full capacity with less turnover.
That would make being a child-care provider "a profession, not a job," Stahoviak said.
"We'd like to see a community funding source to offset the ($1.7 million) difference," said Medora Fralick of First Impressions.
The best way to do that, Fralick said, is through a half-cent city sales tax. That way, the $1.7 million is spread between the residents of the county and the tourists, she said.
First Impressions considered an excise tax, impact fees and a property tax increase but was most in favor of a sales tax, Fralick said.
The board decided to try to implement it as a Steamboat Springs sales tax and not a county tax because state law says the county can't exceed a 6.9 cents sales tax, which is where the tax is at now, Stahoviak said.
The reason the tax will be focused on preschool children is because it is an important time in the development of the child, said Ken Brenner of First Impressions and Steamboat city councilman.
"This seems to be a basic concept of pay now or pay later," Brenner said.
If children don't get the proper care at an early age, they'll start at the public school system behind their classmates, and possibly cost taxpayers more money for special educational assistance, he said.
Community members at the meeting were receptive to the idea but asked tough questions.
Bud Romberg said if there are people in Routt County who can afford to pay $49 a day for child care, their children should not be supplemented through public money.
Fralick agreed but said it would be difficult to force all child-care agencies to raise their rates and then assess financial needs through personal income information.
No definite decisions were made at the meeting. First Impressions plans to meet after the first of the year to discuss the issue further.