Opinion | Bruce Butler: A call for creative leadership | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Bruce Butler: A call for creative leadership

This week, most of the towns are hosting their respective town council candidate forums. Those who follow my columns know that I am a proponent of local government because it is closest to the people it represents. Local elected officials must live, work, shop and play with their neighbors, so it is in local officials’ best interests to listen carefully and to treat constituents with dignity and respect. I urge all town residents to attend, or at least Zoom into, their town’s candidate forums. Each Summit County town is collecting record amounts of money, so it is in your best interest to learn how your elected officials want to spend it.

Some common themes have emerged among the respective town candidates. Many express concerns about workforce housing, child care and how these issues effect the local economy and overall quality of life. These are indeed important issues, but the key to earning my vote is creative ideas to address these challenges, rather than automatically defaulting to new taxes and more elaborate government involvement.

I think municipal elected officials will find some of the child care impediments are above their jurisdiction, but that should not stop them from working with state legislators and others advocating for solutions. By my own admission, I am not an expert on the economics of child care facilities. However, it is my general observation that when there is substantial market demand for a product or service, as the waiting list for child care in Summit County indicates, private industry seeks to fill the void. When the private market cannot make the economics work, I start to look for rules, regulations and bureaucracy that prevent the marketplace from operating efficiently.

To be fair, I think the economics of child care operations are hampered by additional layers of complication that do not impact other industries, such as limits on the number of infants and toddlers per provider and the inherent market cap on the overall cost of the service. At some point, the cost of having the second (or third) income is not substantial enough to exceed or justify the cost of the child care necessary to work the job. This has been a longstanding challenge in Summit County. My wife and I wrestled with the same economic dilemma a few years ago. At a certain cost level, parents drop out of the workforce to care for their children because the child care costs consume the additional job income, so it is a net zero proposition.

The bottom line in local child care is that it is probably not possible to increase its availability in Summit County without some level of subsidy. This is where creative ideas come into play. What can be done to lower the cost of child care services? What can be done to encourage more child care provider participation? What can be done to make more child care space available at an affordable rate? Are there burdensome regulations that could be modified or eliminated to increase the number of providers?

For child care services, if more home care or facility-based providers can be activated, could we offer vouchers to providers to help offset operational costs? Could local governments help establish a provider cooperative that offers home-based providers access to broader insurance, training and licensing, and health benefits that serve as incentives for more people to become providers and facility workers?

To bring more child care space online quickly, could underperforming commercial space in Dillon be leased to provide a second day care facility? Could the former fire department headquarters on Fourth Street in Silverthorne be converted into a child care space, rather than waiting for new construction? Would Summit schools be willing to offer part of their substantial landholdings around the middle school for a child care facility in Frisco?

To address the loss of after-school programs at Frisco, Dillon Valley, Summit Cove and Silverthorne elementary schools, could the after-school child care staffing opportunity be used as a source of consistent income for substitute teachers, making both of those needs more economically viable?

I don’t expect Town Council candidates to have all the answers, but the candidates who are able to think strategically and creatively about the issues and challenges facing our community will earn my votes.

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