Opinion | Bruce Butler: After Election Day

Bruce Butler

Election Day 2022 is close. This is my final reminder to eligible voters to return your ballot by Tuesday, Nov. 8.

When the election dust settles, I suspect Summit County referred measures 1A and 1B will have passed overwhelmingly. Measure 1A increases taxes on short-term rentals in unincorporated Summit County by placing a 2% excise tax on rentals under 30 days. The $5.4 million proceeds are intended to provide additional funding for workforce housing, trailhead improvements, and childcare. Measure 1B makes previously approved taxes for 911 dispatch, wildfire mitigation, and the Sheriff Department’s SMART team mental health co-responder program permanent.

Anybody who has spent more than three days in Summit County knows the high cost of housing and the scarcity and cost of childcare are issues that significantly impact our local labor market and frequently result in families leaving our community. These issues are real problems and increasing access to housing and childcare are certainly noble goals. My only reservation about Measure 1A is that merely collecting more money to spend on childcare may do relatively little to solve the underlying problems. Building facilities is the least of the obstacles.

I do not claim to be an expert on the economics of the childcare industry, but when I see high demand for a product or service, and little or no response from the private marketplace whatsoever, I start to suspect that there are high regulatory and/or legal barriers to entry that prohibit private industry from responding to the obvious demand. When my family was in the childcare arena 14-18 years ago, we were lucky to find home daycare. Yes, it was expensive, and we really had to consider if the second income netted enough extra pay to justify the cost. The providers I knew have since retired and moved onto warmer environments and more tranquil daily lives, but it seems to me that enabling more opportunities for home daycare businesses would help alleviate some of the critical shortage.

So, what are the likely barriers to entry for home-based childcare? A few that come to mind are homeowner association rules that prohibit commercial businesses from operating onsite. I am not going to go down the “short-term rentals should be considered a commercial business” rabbit hole here, but for those who are elected to state office on Nov. 8, it might be worth exploring some targeted exceptions to home owner association commercial business prohibitions, specifically for childcare, and providing some liability protection for home owners associations that have childcare businesses in their communities. Please consult the home owner association, insurance, and childcare industries to ensure a workable outcome.

For all childcare providers, home or facility based, I suspect insurance costs are a major impediment to childcare operations and profitability. Perhaps, there are ways to create a statewide childcare insurance pool that could mitigate these costs? Perhaps there are ways to mitigate childcare/daycare licensing and certification obstacles? Perhaps the state could offer professional development scholarships for individuals who want to move into the profession? Perhaps some restrictions on the number of infants/children per provider could be relaxed without compromising individual care and safety?

On the county level, perhaps we can offer some housing stipends or incentives for full-time childcare workers? Perhaps there are opportunities to help local businesses pool together to offer childcare to their employees? Striking the ideal balance is challenging but not impossible. One thing that seems clear is private childcare operations do not appear to be profitable. That needs to change to fundamentally solve the problem. Voters will likely provide a funding stream. I hope some creative public-private and market-oriented ideas can be explored with the proceeds.

Regarding Measure 1B, I personally prefer property taxes (mill levies) cyclically “sunset,” meaning they must be periodically reaffirmed by voters rather than become permanent taxes. However, I am practical enough to accept that certain services, like the emergency call center, are essential public life-safety functions of government, and the call center is not getting any less expensive to operate or easier to staff.  That is a compelling argument for 1B’s adoption. Please take time to read, understand, and consider the intended and unintended consequences of what you are voting for. An educated voting public is essential to our democracy.

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