Steamboat council candidates confirm tough choice over home daycare grants | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat council candidates confirm tough choice over home daycare grants

Candidates for public office expressed concerns about the fate of a City of Steamboat grant program in support of home daycare facilities during the annual First Impressions of Routt County forum Sept. 27.

Candidates for Steamboat Springs City Council and school boards around Routt County  weighed in this week on the challenge of providing more opportunities for childcare for working families in the valley against the backdrop of declining revenues and increasing demand.

The occasion was the candidates forum hosted by First Impressions of Routt County, an organization that works to ensure young children here have adequate resources to  support their healthy development.

Sonja Macys, seeking to return to City Council, after serving in that capacity from 2011 to 2015,  said she learned as the executive of Yampatika and collaborating with First Impressions, a great deal about the brain forms early in life. Macys called for an increased emphasis on public transit to make living in the Yampa Valley more affordable for young families.

"I know how much wages young families make," Macys said. "And I've seen families leave for a place where childcare is more affordable."

Katy Lee, one of three candidates seeking voter approval to serve on two openings on the Steamboat Springs School Board, said, "My role on school board would be to make sure school board continues to support full-day kindergarten and also full-day preschool."

A second Steamboat school board candidate, Mayling Simpson, wants to influence the Education Fund Board to support early childhood education.

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"I want to be sure birth to (age) 5 gets its fair share of district money and that we have proper influence on the Education Fund Board to make sure we have enough money to support that," Simpson said. "An investment in those years pays off very nicely throughout life, for our communities and our county."

Hayden  School Board candidate Medora Fralick, seeking a second term, also explained how an investment in early childhood education pays dividends.

"We took the BOCES pre-school and brought it in-house to the district," she said. "This is our second year with that, and it's very, very important to us in Hayden. If kids don't come into the district ready to learn, everybody pays for it."

Peter Arnold, who is the challenger in a city council race with incumbent Scott Ford, had a young daughter sitting on his lap throughout the forum. He said he's happy with his role as a stay-at-home dad with time to run for city council. He said it would be his intention on council to seek alternatives to the needed  replacement for the childcare center known as the Igloo.

"The entire story of the Igloo wasn't  well-presented," Arnold said. "The cost kept going up and up, and now it's a $1 million boondoggle, but I think there's still a need," he said.

Incumbents Kathi Meyer and Ford agreed that City Council will soon be faced with some difficult decisions in the childcare areas as they engage the 2018 budget process.

Ford pointed out that the city of Steamboat has had a $5,000 grant program to help home childcare providers take the necessary improvements to their dwellings, to run a childcare business. And city council voted to extend that opportunity to outside the city limits.

"I'm passionate about supporting that effort," to incumbent council candidate Lisel Petis said. "Five-thousand dollars is enough  for new plumbing, bathrooms and changing stations. With the budget constraints the city faces we're going to have to choose," whether to continue to offer that support to families that are "struggling to stay here."

But Meyer said she, Petis and Ford know that the budget book prepared by city staff for the October 3 council meeting proposes cutting the seed money for in-home childcare centers, in an effort to balance the budget.

"Next Tuesday, (we're) going to have to fight to keep that," Meyer predicted.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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