City and county discuss building joint child care facility
As costs of living continue to rise and options for housing are strained in Routt County, Steamboat Springs City Council and the Routt County Board of Commissioners agree the need for affordable, quality child care is more important than ever and should be a priority for both entities.
The groups met Tuesday and discussed the feasibility of building a child care facility at the new Routt County Health and Human Services building at Sixth and Oak streets.
“My vision is that we build a building, and by offering that building to a provider at low or no rent, they’re able to offer a viable child care operation out of that building,” Commissioner Beth Melton said.
While the city currently operates a summer camp program, it filled up in 30 seconds. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department also runs a year-round child care program, but it is only available for children 6 and older.
City Manager Gary Suiter said he took an informal survey of city employees and found many currently had young children or planned to have children in the near future and were concerned about a lack of child care in the city.
“We’ve been having this discussion for many years,” said Angie Pleshe, program leader at First Impressions of Routt County. “The two main issues that keep coming up are the cost of child care and the availability of child care, especially for infants and toddlers.”
Pleshe conducted a survey of 77 county employees and found 35 either currently have children or plan to soon.
“There’s always been a need for more infant and toddler slots,” Pleshe said. “At this point, it’s just a question of what’s feasible.”
As for who could use the services, council members had varying views, and some felt city and county employees should have priority.
“If I’m going to say yes to this and invest in it, I want to set an example of how we’re taking care of our people first,” council member Michael Buccino said. “If we’re going to invest in child care, we need to make sure we have enough for the city and the county.”
Other council members said they believed lack of child care was an issue among all Routt County residents, so all residents should have access to a solution.
“This is a building that’s going to be built by taxpayer funds, so I have a hard time with the idea that taxpayers aren’t going to be able to utilize the services rendered,” said council member Heather Sloop. “I would have a hardship with the fact that we would do this and only let employees use it.”
Melton said she believes much of the funding for the facility could come from government grants, as the federal government has issued COVID-19 stimulus grants specifically for child care. The Colorado Department of Local Affairs is also likely to provide grant funding, though that money may only cover construction costs and likely would not cover full-time staff.
“The only concerns I want to throw out there is the amount we’re going to have to pay staff to do a center like that,” council member Lisel Petis said.
Petis also suggested partnering with a private organization rather than hiring more city employees, as that could help save costs.
The groups did not make any final decisions on whether to move forward on the child care facility but agreed to discuss the topic when they meet together again in June.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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