Affordable early childhood learning and care is the top-funded issue on Summit County ballot initiative 1A | SummitDaily.com

Affordable early childhood learning and care is the top-funded issue on Summit County ballot initiative 1A

FIRC executive director Tamara Drangstveit, left, debates initiative 1A with Summit GOP chair Kim McGahey, right, during the candidate forum Wednesday night, Oct. 3, at the Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco.

Ballot Initiative 1A aims to create a 10-year mill levy that would raise $8.8 million a year for five different issues of need in Summit County. The issue area receiving the highest dollar amount is "affordable early childhood care and learning," which will be allotted $2.5 million a year for 10 years, or $25 million total. The amount seems enormous for a rural mountain county, but so is Summit's demand for the services.

From the 70s to the 2010s, Summit County was one of the fastest-growing counties in the country. The population went from just under 9,000 residents in 1980 to over 30,000 residents in 2017. The population growth is largely due to transient populations, but babies are also being born at a clip of about 300 a year in the county.

The demand for early childhood providers — including licensed childcare centers, public elementary school options and licensed family childcare providers — is far outpacing the county's supply.

Previously, the Summit Daily reported that 345 children are on waiting lists for an early childhood provider, mostly infants and toddlers. At the time, Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options, said the $2.5 million a year would go toward tuition assistance for four-year-olds as well as putting money into a capital fund for a new childcare center.

The issue area receiving the highest dollar amount is “affordable early childhood care and learning,” which will be allotted $2.5 million a year for 10 years, or $25 million total. The amount seems enormous for a rural mountain county, but so is Summit’s demand for the services.

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"It would not immediately address the needs for infants and toddlers, but if we can solve the accessibility problem for four-year-olds, we can start working on those other segments," Burns said. "That funding will be a big boost for the community."

The county's capacity for early childhood care is low because there is a skill, labor and resource shortage, which are in turn related to the  high cost of living, constitutional handcuffs on the county’s ability to raise new revenue on its own and a general lack of preparation for the population boom.

Tamara Drangstveit, executive director of the non-profit Family, Intercultural and Resource Center, spoke generally on behalf of 1A at a candidate and issue forum at the community and senior center this past Wednesday. However, as a mother of toddler twins, she was most ardent about the need to fund the early childhood issue.

"Working families like me, we can't afford $2,300 a month for early childhood care," Drangstveit said.

"That's more than my mortgage, and my mortgage is more than the bank says it should be, and I can't find anywhere cheaper to live."

Kim McGahey, chairman of the Summit County GOP, spoke generally in opposition to 1A at the forum. He said that he did not dispute the county's needs in the issue areas, including early childhood care, saying he lauded everyone in the county for doing the best they can to "live the American dream at 9,000 feet."

However, he does oppose 1A, both because he considered it another unnecessary tax increase and, as a conservative, he opposes the incrementally increasing reach government is having in everyday life, and that throwing tax money at the problem won't solve it. He asserted that the county government merely needs to make more efficient use of existing tax revenue, and he considered 1A to be a pork barrel for spending. McGahey also claimed that the county had a $20 million "surplus" it could spend on the programs. The Summit Daily could not independently verify that figure at publication.

McGahey also opposed putting all the issues into one question on the ballot, and wants the county to break the question into five separate questions which can stand on their own merits.

Drangstveit countered McGahey's assertion that there is already enough money to pay for these programs, saying that she and other people who care about these issues have been trying very hard to find the money by alternate means, but the exorbitant cost of early childhood care can't be covered by current funds or by donations from private business alone.

She also defended putting all five issues into a single question, saying that every single issue is important to the county's full-time population, and that the cost to campaign separately for five questions is much more than campaigning for a single question.

Drangstveit's most passionate plea for passing 1A came to an appeal to the community to take care of itself, and to not rely on help that may never come from state, federal government or private interests looking to make a profit.

"This community, we care about our problems and solve our problems for ourselves, and that's what I'm most proud of," Drangstveit said.