City Council candidates talk child care crisis at First Impressions forum
Each of the candidates for Steamboat Springs City Council — regardless of which district they are running in — said the city has a role in addressing the local child care crisis, speaking at a forum Wednesday specifically about the issue.
Hosted by First Impressions of Routt County, the local early childhood education council, candidates suggested different roles for the city ranging from being an advocate for increased child care access to one that should look into building infrastructure to address the issue.
There are council seats open in Districts 1, 2, 3 and an at-large seat. All Steamboat voters will vote for their preferred candidate in each race.
Candidate Christopher Waters did not participate in the forum.
Gail Garey, District 1
Gail Garey said her life experiences — being a mother of two while both parents worked full time — are why she understands the importance of early childhood education and how dramatically it can impact lives.
If elected, Garey said she would be supportive of partnering with Routt County to build a child care facility on the site of the future Health and Human Services building in downtown Steamboat, and believes the city should be collaborative to get grant funding that is available to address the issue on a state and federal level.
The Yampa Valley Housing Authority’s Brown Ranch property will be pivotal to addressing local crisis, she said, but City Council also needs to look for more immediate solutions as well.
“We have a workforce crisis, we have a child care crisis and we have a housing crisis that are all interconnected,” Garey said, saying that the Brown Ranch needs to plan to include child care as well. “We can’t rely on Brown Ranch.”
David Baldinger Jr., District 1
David Baldinger Jr. said everyone can agree that the child care system is broken and inadequate, and that the city will need to take a collaborative approach to address the quality, affordability and retention of child care staff.
The solution is a multi-tiered approach including the city, county, school district, private businesses, as well as federal and state partners, Baldinger Jr. said. The biggest hurdle is facilities, which if the city could put money toward building some could go a long way to increasing accessibility.
When it comes to retaining workers, Baldinger Jr. said housing drives the challenges and adding housing will be part of the solution. He also wants to look into bringing costs down for centers to allow them to pay workers more.
“I think retaining and recruiting high quality staff, whether it be in child care, or any other industry, is a big challenge is driven by housing,” Baldinger Jr. said. “It’s higher salaries and lower housing costs combined together.”
Joella West, District 2
Joella West said child care problems facing the city right now are not that different from when she was a single mother, with care being difficult to afford.
When considering access, West said council needs to ensure programs are meeting staffing and quality standards in a location that is convenient for people. West said council needs to scour city-owned properties to see what opportunities there may be to offer them to new or ongoing child care programs.
West said council needs to have a subcommittee directly devoted to child care, and to look at the city’s Parks and Recreation budget to see if money can be redirected to enhance the after-school programs already operated, even if that means shifting money from other city programs.
“Council members need to become and stay informed and engaged,” West said. “Take advantage of the knowledge and experience that exists already to solicit thoughts and ideas from the people who work in this field to identify the ways in which the city can be a useful partner.”
Loui Antonucci, District 2
Loui Antonucci said one of the lessons he learned while serving previously on City Council was to listen first and then make decisions. The first thing he would do if elected would be to hold a work session with First Impressions and other child care stakeholders.
Nationally the industry is plagued by low wages, which leads to high turnover and a lack of continuity for children, Antonucci said. While he said he does not know what the exact solution is, it will take a collaborative approach with the county and school district.
Larger child care companies have been offering better benefits to retain staff as well, and Antonucci said child care needs to be an industry where there is some upward mobility.
“We need to make this a priority, we need to have … a number of work sessions with all the stakeholders, get some more public input,” Antonucci said. “From there, we can get the action plan and actually get some things going.”
Blair Picard, District 2
Blair Picard said child care needs an advocate and money. He pointed to the city spending just $68,000 on child care last year, which he believes could only hire one person to provide quality care.
While housing is more of a long-term issue, child care is something Picard feels can be addressed sooner. The city should be a facilitator to the many entities in town that are working to address child care issues and better extend resources already being provided to have greater impact.
One funding source for Picard is money that the city allocates to the Steamboat Springs Chamber, saying that the role the Chamber played getting visitors to town has passed. He said he would allocate $450,000 of the Chamber’s request instead toward child care.
“Residents of Steamboat and Routt County, we must help ourselves,” Picard said. “This is a resident affordability issue, and unlike housing, I think it’s one we can get our arms around more quickly with the right action.”
Daniel Gerke, District 3
Daniel Gerke said child care issues are blended with others like affordable housing and workforce shortages and that it also disproportionately affects women.
There are options at the state level for grants, Gerke said, but he would also like to focus on what the city could do concerning facilities and potentially provide some funding to people looking to open a new child care center.
The city could also help coordinate services between child care centers, potentially removing some of the administrative burden, Gerke said. He added that the city also needs to invest in the child care workforce to pay a more livable wage.
“We have to look at things in a very comprehensive manner as it relates to child care,” Gerke said. “One of the first things that needs to happen is developing a committee that focuses on child care so we can develop an action plan.”
Steve Randall, District 3
Steve Randall said he understands the importance of child care because he and his siblings are a product of child care, especially growing up with a single mother. Randall and his wife were exceptions to the rule, however, as they could afford child care, he said.
Randall said he sees an opportunity for the city to work with businesses to help them provide child care as an incentive to employees, which could also help address the workforce shortage.
As an example, Randall pointed to what Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. has done by starting to set up their own child care for employees.
“We’re seeing an economic ripple effect,” Randall said. “The way I retained employees and attracted employees when I was in business was I paid them more money and gave them opportunity. Same applies to the child care business.”
Dakotah McGinlay, District 3
Dakotah McGinlay said early childhood is a critical time for development in a child’s life and supporting it at the city level is an investment in the future. Lowering the costs of child care would make it easier for people to spend more money on their health, wellness and at local businesses around town, McGinlay said.
Finding a sustainable funding source is pivotal, she said, and she would support asking all county voters to pass a tax that would fund child care beyond Steamboat, as has been done in other mountain towns.
Steamboat needs to ask itself what families and future generations can hope for and what the identity of the town will be moving forward, McGinlay said.
“How are we going to protect these services to benefit the entire community now as well as be inherited by our children into the future,” McGinlay said. “Maybe the 2A funding could be spent on child care rather than more trails.”
Walter Magill, District 3
Walter Magill said the city has been in child care before with buildings like the Igloo, and that its role now should be to offer facilities, which would then help with the quality and affordability of child care.
It’s a finance question, Magill said, and the city needs to look at the budget to find money or apply for grants to support people who may be interested in starting up new child care options.
This will start with First Impressions and other stakeholders like the school district and other large employers around Steamboat to ensure they work together to create an action plan, he said.
“This is a priority and the majority of council probably is going to vote to make this a council goal for 2022,” Magill said. “We’re just going to have to look at our facilities and our budgets and see what we can assist either subsidizing new child care and offering our facilities for new child care.”
Dave Moloney, at-large
Dave Moloney said he won’t pretend to be an expert on child care, but he is a problem solver and has been finding creative solutions to meet various objectives throughout his career.
One idea, Moloney said, is that the city could offer incentives like free skiing at Howelsen Hill or free golf at Haymaker Golf Course for baby boomers that may be moving to Routt County as a perk for them to work — even just part-time — to help address the crisis.
In a best case scenario, Moloney said, it will be four to five years until there are buildings to address child care and housing at the Brown Ranch, and council needs to look for more immediate solutions. One of those could be a pipeline with Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs.
“There’s a bunch of money and millions of dollars that are coming into this area,” Moloney said, referring to pandemic aid coming to the city and county. “I’d like to see them be directed toward long-term things like a program of the college to train people.”
Eddie Briones, at-large
Eddie Briones did not participate in person for the forum, instead he provided written answers read by Irene Avitia, moderator and vice chair of First Impressions.
Briones said the lack of affordability and availability when it comes to child care has hit close to home for him as he and his wife are planning to have their first child.
If elected, a top priority for him would be to partner with First Impressions, trust their recommendations and to reach out to the public to get its input on how to alleviate the issue. Briones said he would also look to other mountain towns to see how they have addressed the issue.
Staffing issues are directly tied to affordable housing, he said. While the Brown Ranch is a long-term solution, Briones said he would address it faster by regulating short-term rentals and incentivizing business owners to offer their space to long-term renters.
“Child care, housing and staffing directly affect each other. Without one you can’t have two,” Briones said. “First Impressions, the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, Routt County and City Council all need to partner, plan and execute together and in doing so, secure a better future.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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