Child care tax may be tough sell in Breckenridge
April 8, 2013
BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge’s first attempt to sell its child care tax proposal to voters was a rough one, indicating the town may have a hard road ahead convincing some residents to support the measure.
Only a handful of people attended an informational meeting on the ballot measure Friday, and some of those who did come arrived with questions about the necessity of the tax.
Members of the town council are asking Breckenridge voters to tax themselves twice in November to provide funding for two different early childhood education projects: the countywide Right Start program and a Breckenridge scholarship program.
But residents who attended Friday’s meeting questioned whether the town, which has built up roughly $17 million in savings, actually needed a new revenue source to continue an existing program projected to cost roughly $800,000 a year.
Town officials generally do not use reserve funds for ongoing expenses.
“The council really said, philosophically, for ongoing expenses and operating stuff, we really need to have sustainable revenue sources,” Councilwoman Jen McAtamney said at Friday’s meeting.
Community members noted that the money in reserves could fund the child care program for 17 years.
Breckenridge began subsidizing early childhood education at several private centers in town in 2007, when the industry was struggling. Demand for the limited number of child care slots in town was so high parents were putting their future child on waiting lists during pregnancy. Still, tuition rates were not high enough to cover the cost of care, and all of the facilities saw constant teacher turn over because the pay was relatively low.
In 2007, the town stepped in with a multi-pronged program – officials call it a public-private partnership – to help address the problems. The town provided a teacher-salary supplement, funded the construction of a new child care center and launched the scholarship fund, while requiring all of the centers to raise tuition.
McAtamney said council members believed, then and now, that the subsidies were crucial to maintaining the “real-town” character that makes Breckenridge attractive to visitors. More than 80 percent of local parents work, including 83 percent of mothers, but many families still struggle to pay for day care because of the high cost of living.
The scholarship program is currently paid for from the town’s general fund with money freed up by a voter-approved tax to pay off loans used to build the Stephen C. West Ice Arena and other town recreational facilities. But that tax will end in 2014.
The town will ask voters to approve either a .24 percent sales-tax increase – raising the rate to 8.515 percent in town – or a slight property-tax increase.
It is very likely the county tax question won’t be an increase at all, but rather continue an existing property tax dedicated to child care, which is set to end in 2016.
The tax is currently pulling in more than $750,000 annually for Early Childhood Options. Both it and the Breckenridge child care scholarship program depend on the approval of the tax questions in November.
Though the countywide tax question will appear on all Summit ballots, it’s likely Breckenridge will need to carry the question for it to pass.
County and town officials plan to join forces this year to campaign for both questions.
“The objective is for both to pass,” Breckenridge Mayor John Warner said. “This is the ‘Year of the Child’ in Summit County.”