Council to consider child-care tax

Half-cent sales tax meant to help fund children's providers may be sent to voters in November

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— The finger paints have dried out at the Young at Heart child-care center, and the center can't afford to replace them right now. That's just one indication of how tough times are in the child-care business, said center Director Karla Haddock.

And finger paints are a small concern when compared to the high rate of turnover on her staff, Haddock said. Starting pay at the center is $8.50 per hour, a rate Haddock said is eclipsed by salaries in the restaurant industry.

"That's pretty low if you're working 10-hour days with rambunctious kids all day," Haddock said.

Many of her workers are on part-time schedules so they can make money at other jobs, she said.

Haddock will be one of the child-care providers at today's City Council meeting, during which the council will consider placing a half-cent sales tax dedicated to child-care funding on the November ballot. Some centers have encouraged parents to bring their children to the meeting; others have gone so far as to ask parents to pick their children up at Centennial Hall today.

Advocates for the tax said what they are proposing is an "educational" tax not a baby-sitting tax similar to the half-cent city sales tax currently dedicated to public school education.

City Councilwoman Arianthtettner said she doesn't expect the influx of small children to make the difference in terms of the council's decision.

"That type of filling the room, if it doesn't change the facts of the case, it doesn't really do much for me," Stettner said.

First Impressions of Routt County, a child-care advocacy group, has not significantly changed its proposal since the last time it approached the council on June 19 but hopes to better represent its goals at tonight's meeting.

Members of First Impressions said Monday they would approach the meeting as a way to "tap City Council's wisdom" as much as to pitch their tax.

"The group feels like the original proposal and the way that the half-cent is spent is still what everybody wants to do," said Tami Havener, a First Impressions board member.

Havener, who also sits on the Steamboat Springs School Board, said she thinks the tax is to support education, not just "child care." Studies cited by the supporters of the tax claim that most brain growth occurs before the age of 5, though the vast majority of public spending begins when children are in kindergarten and increases steadily thereafter.

Proceeds from the tax would go toward improving the salaries of child-care workers, which start at around $8 an hour at many facilities. In addition, the tax would allow child-care facilities to hire additional workers to accommodate more children. Currently, waiting lists at some centers are more than 50 names long.

Child-care advocates say providing quality care costs an average of $49 per day per child, but the average rate paid in Steamboat Springs is $28 per day per child. The child-care tax would help close that gap.

At the June 19 meeting, City Council urged the group to consider using some sort of a sliding scale of subsidies to make sure people who can already afford to pay $49 per day per child will not be subsidized by taxpayers.

The board of First Impressions, however, voted not to implement income tests. Board member Nancy Stahoviak said such sliding scales would be too difficult to administer, while other board members said it might raise issues of fairness if some parents were paying for other parents' children.

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