First Impressions continues work

But child-care advocacy group decides not to pursue new tax proposals

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— First Impressions of Routt County will not pursue a ballot initiative for the upcoming November election but will continue its work to improve child-care development and education in the county.

The child-care advocacy group on Wednesday decided against pursuing tax proposals this November to support childhood development and education.

Instead the group will focus on eight issues it believes are critical in gaining public support and financing.

"We can't think about a November ballot initiative," said Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak, who co-chairs the group. "We really need to step back. We need to identify what we need to do and how to get it."

Last November, voters rejected a two-pronged tax that supporters said would have been used to improve child care throughout the county.

Residents overwhelmingly voted against a countywide property-tax increase of 1 mill and a half-cent sales-tax increase in Steamboat Springs.

If the initiatives had been approved, the funds would have been used on a variety of programs, including the creation of scholarships for families to help pay for child care and help in recruiting and retaining qualified child-care workers in the area.

Opponents argued the taxes would result in increased rates for child-care centers and were skeptical the funds would benefit families that needed the assistance the most.

Opponents also questioned why families and residents who don't have children should subsidize the cost of child care for their neighbors.

"We need to figure out a way to bring in people who don't need child care or people who don't have a stake in early childhood education," Stahoviak said.

To come up with a strategy on how to proceed after the failed vote, a subcommittee of the group conducted a one-day retreat last week that included officials from the Steamboat Springs and Hayden school districts, child-care facilities, Routt County and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.

From the discussion, which was conducted through a mediator, the subcommittee identified eight issues First Impressions needs to address.

The issues raised include accountability, child care, early childhood education, public awareness, business, stay-at-home parents, overall health and financing.

The board is planning to create subcommittees to focus on the issues and come up with strategies to gain public support.

One idea the board plans to pursue is a partnership with the area school districts to provide early childhood education for children ages 3 to 6.

Ken Brenner, who is a board member, said joining with the school districts could bolster the board's effort.

If the school boards act as fiscal agents, accountability would not be questioned, Brenner said.

Ideas about how to rally support from the business community also were discussed.

The board is planning to approach the business community to help it understand what employees have to go through to get child care. The board is hopeful businesses will implement family-friendly policies.

The board has decided to put the issue of financing on the back burner for now.

"We need to focus on one or two issues and make goals," said Steve Jones, superintendent of the South Routt School District. "We should not talk about financing until we decide what we want to do."

Stahoviak agreed.

"We need to create long-term goals," she said. "Financing will be part of those goals. We don't need a committee to solely focus on that issue. At some point in time, we will talk about priorities and how we finance those priorities."

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