Our View: Tax support for child care worth exploration | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Tax support for child care worth exploration

The Routt County Board of Commissioners have taken the first step toward identifying permanent funding for early childhood education, including child care. That funding could include a tax measure on the November 2022 ballot, but county officials first intend to hire a consultant to research all options before endorsing any one strategy.

We heartily endorse this initiative and look forward to an expedient but thorough process to attack one of our area’s most pressing challenges.

Local statistics from 2019 indicate there is enough child care to serve only 60% of the children 5 or younger who need care. The situation is even worse for children 3 and younger, with local care available to less than 20%.

The high cost of local housing has only magnified the challenges for many parents who are juggling multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. Child-care costs can vary wildly, but 2019 Care.com data for Colorado estimates the annual cost of care in a day care center for one child at $10,600. In-home care can be 2.5 times that.

Compounding that is the high cost of living for local caregivers, who often have to commute from outlying communities to work. This combined with low wages contribute to high turnover in the profession.

At a glance

At issue: The Routt County Board of Commissioners are researching the feasibility of a tax measure to support child care.

Our View: While county commissioners are driving this proposal, we recommend that any research and movement toward a ballot measure be inclusive and include input from constituencies in all cities and communities across the county.

Editorial Board

• Logan Molen, publisher

• Lisa Schlichtman, editor

• Bryce Martin, assistant editor

• Ana Gomez, community representative

• Kelly McElfish, community representative

Contact the Editorial Board at 970-871-4221 or lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com.

Commissioners are hopeful a consultant can help fill in the blanks to assess what the current child care need is locally, best practices in other communities, how services would be funded and at what levels of public support, who would administer funding and how ongoing programs would be evaluated. A Routt County request for proposal was issued in late November to find a consultant to answer those and other questions. Similar consultant work in Larimer County cost about $50,000.

Hiring a professional to sort through all the many variables will be critical, particularly as it relates to who would foot the bill.

Discussion at a recent commissioners meeting mentioned potential funding options could include, but not be limited to, a property tax, a sales tax or a “sin” tax on items such as alcohol, tobacco and cannabis. Assuming the consultant’s research confirms the need for dedicated long-term funding, settling on the right financial strategy to achieve voter support is likely to be among the biggest challenges because each of those taxes hits different constituencies and in different ways.

For example, residents without children or those without need for child care because their children are older could be more opposed to any kind of new tax. They may ask, “What’s in it for me?”

We would say it’s important for all Routt County residents to remember there’s a ricochet effect throughout the community when child care is lacking. If a parent needs to stay home to care for a child, that’s one fewer potential employee to fill the many local job vacancies. The reality is our community is losing good employees and, in some cases, good employers because they simply can’t afford the cost of child care, let alone the general cost of living.

Some local businesses, including Steamboat Resort, recognize how critical the need is and are planning to offer child care services for their employees as a recruitment and retention tool. But many smaller businesses simply can’t afford such a noble undertaking without assistance.

The issue is complex but urgent and will require intense study and cooperation.

Commissioners have indicated support for focus groups or polling, and we think that’s a baseline requirement in collecting broad and diverse community input. We encourage a cooperative research process that includes representation from all Routt County cities and communities, schools, private businesses, parents, retirees, second-home owners, minorities, service workers and any resident with an overriding need for affordable and accessible child care.

We’d also encourage any research of funding proposals to include the prospect for sunset clauses and/or a regular and transparent program-review process to ensure any tax revenue is well spent and making a difference for our communities. If voters see true value in their investments, they’re more likely to support a tax initially and to renew it in subsequent years.

This critical issue isn’t going away, and we applaud county leaders for their urgency in taking the first of many big steps in search of a feasible long-term solution that pays big dividends far into the future. As a community, let’s follow their lead and get actively involved in that solution, in whatever form it may take.

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