Child care

Kathleen Merritt, executive director of Bright Futures, left, and Clea Willow, the nonprofit’s program director, presented the Early Childhood Initiative, Ballot Issue 1A, to the San Miguel County Board of Commissioners in July. (Photo by Jessica Kutz/Telluride Daily Planet)

 

The region’s shortage of child care options has been a hot topic this year.

Just 211 child care slots are available for 383 children in San Miguel County under the age of 5. Kathleen Merritt, executive director of Bright Futures — a Telluride-based nonprofit that focuses on early childhood education in the county — believes that a ballot initiative to raise funds for early childhood education should be part of the solution. 

The San Miguel County Board of Commissioners approved the language for the Early Childhood Initiative, Ballot Issue 1A, at a Sept. 7 meeting. It is the county’s only item on the ballot for the Nov. 7 election. 

The initiative would increase property taxes by .75 of a mill, or an estimated $5.40 for every $100,000 of assessed residential property value. 

The ballot item is being promoted through Strong Start, Strong Community, a childhood advocacy committee comprised of local stakeholders including community members, business owners, nonprofits and early childhood education professionals, Merritt said. 

The funds accrued as a result of the tax (which is estimated to raise approximately $616,890 per year) would go toward helping existing centers increase their capacity to accept infants and toddlers — the biggest need in the county, according to Merritt — by adding staff or expanding the size of current locations. 

Monies also would be used to fund early childhood education and building up the availability of licensed home child care providers, an option that Merritt said is popular across the country, but hasn’t been utilized in the county.

Licensed home child care providers, Merritt said, are just as able to provide early childhood education “without (the) additional bricks and mortar” of separate institutions, and “are regulated through the state just like any other child care center.”

Former County Commissioner Art Goodtimes said that while he will support the initiative, he doesn’t feel it’s fair to put the onus of child care funding on property owners. 

“We are looking toward citizens who own property to pay for something that basically is a benefit for our business community,” Goodtimes said. 

If employees need child care, their employers should provide the solution, he said. 

“We are talking about a subset of the community that wants to work and needs to have a job, and that is all well and good,” Goodtimes said. “But then, to make the rest of the property owners — people like myself, who are retired — pay, so that the young people can go to work in Telluride? 

“The connection just doesn’t seem strong enough to really be fair. The real fairness would be for the business community to come forward with a plan.”

Even so, Goodtimes said, he will vote to pass the initiative in November. Goodtimes is a member of the Green Party. “I really believe in social justice,” he explained, “and think that when our society in general, and the business community, don’t take care of some of the necessities, the government has to step in.”

To those voters still on the fence, Merritt had this to say: “Providing infant, toddler and school care is crucial to a community’s economic development.”

She urges those who don’t have kids of their own to consider the bigger picture. Communities thrive “when children have access to early childhood care. It builds that foundation for future success, in school and in life,” she said. 

Merritt cited a statistic from a National Conference of State Legislatures report that states that for every dollar invested in early childhood education there is a return of $8 to the community and society at large.

“If we invest early, we save money down the road with higher graduation rates, lower pregnancy rates and more contributing members to society,” she said.