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For the children

Alex Miller

It was a close vote, but on Nov. 1, Summit County put its money where its mouth is when it comes to sustaining its local community.Known as Ballot Initiative 1-A, the measure passed by voters increased property taxes to create a pot of money for early childhood care and education. The increase was minimal ($16 on a $400,000 home), but the $6 million dedicated to the fund over the next 10 years will mean a lot to parents, children and child-care providers.It was sad to see some of the letters appearing in the Summit Daily characterizing the ballot measure as nothing more than a subsidy for parents (probably from people happily cashing Medicare and Social Security checks). What they didn’t see was that it’s really about supporting a resort community by helping families remain there.In the course of the Vail Town Council election, we heard a lot about how candidates thought more should be done to get families back into the town. Vague references to more affordable housing were made, but nothing concrete was mentioned. However well-intentioned the thoughts, the impression left was that nothing much is going to change.There is no silver bullet, as they say – it’s a lot of smaller things that need to be done. Helping families with child care expenses is one real, tangible thing that can make a difference. And Summit has provided an idea that Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi told me he might also be interested in pursuing.It’s not difficult to imagine an Eagle County where runaway housing prices, energy costs and overall living expenses have forced out most of the working class. One need only look to Aspen to see how this unfolds. When the families start to leave – and many already have -everyone suffers. It gets harder and harder for employers to find workers, local police have to commute from Leadville or Glenwood, parents willing to serve their community by sitting on commissions or coaching teams grow few and far between: they’re spending all their time working and commuting.Even second homeowners, whose interest in the human community is understandably limited, will notice the deterioration in their vacation home. Service on all levels declines as caring locals are replaced by more seasonal workers and chain stores supplant local businesses. That nice family next door is gone now – some people from Kansas we’ve never met live there two weeks a year. The mountains remain, but the soul of the community they’ve come to love appears sadly diminished.Full-time child-care costs $700-$800 per month and more almost $10,000 a year. Even so, the people who look after our kids are underpaid for what they do. While many of these providers are dedicated for the long term, others don’t last because they can’t survive on the pay. This is bad for kids, who thrive on consistency and continuity, not to mention getting more from child-care professionals who stick to their profession and get better every year.As a nation, we pay for children’s schooling from kindergarten through 12th grade, and plenty of money is also available to subsidize higher education. We provide money for disabled people, seniors and other special-needs populations. In previous generations, money for early childhood care wasn’t seen as needed, since so many women stayed home with young children. That’s not the case anymore. Eagle County has one of the highest percentages of working women in the nation. In many if not most of our families, both parents work because they have to get by in a place with one of the highest costs of living in the country.A measure like what Summit just passed would put some money into training, recruiting and retaining early learning providers, as well as funds to help retain them. It would also make childcare scholarship money available for parents struggling to make ends meet and fund other outreach programs.Even for those who don’t have children or whose kids are grown, this makes sense for the Eagle County community as a whole. The cost to taxpayers is nominal: In the case of Summit County, $16 a year on an average home, or about the cost of four Starbucks drinks. Surely we can afford that for our community, our families, our children and the preschool teachers who take care of them while their parents are off running the place.Assistant Managing Editor Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or amiller@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado


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