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Funding child care without raising taxes a tall order for Summit County

Earlier this year, Park City area parents urged the Park City Council to offer financial support for child care. Local providers raised tuition prices because government funding expired.
Jae C. Hong
Data the Early Childhood Alliance compiled shows child care costs have increased 220% in the last three decades, which is twice as fast as other necessities like housing and groceries.

The county is poised to expand child care for its own employees, but councilmembers don’t know if there’s room in FY2024's budget to reach the rest of the community.

The Early Childhood Alliance, a division of the nonprofit Park City Community Foundation dedicated to helping kids from birth to three, came to the Summit County Council Wednesday.

The alliance hopes councilmembers can find hundreds of thousands of dollars more to allocate toward community child care.

“It is a little bit strange to be talking about adding monies to the budget in light of your conversation Monday and your conversation that will happen later today as we're looking at cuts,” deputy county manager Janna Young said, apologizing for the timing.

Early Childhood Alliance Coordinator Kristen Schulz took the presentation from there. She proposes two programs.

One is a scholarship for families earning less than 65% of the county’s median income, which she says would cost the county $130,000.

The other is a so-called tri-share program. The county could allocate $200,000 and pay for one third of child care costs, with parents and their employers covering the other two thirds.

Councilmembers are split on covering those costs.

Council Chair Roger Armstrong has consistently called on businesses to expand child care benefits, in large part because he doesn’t want to raise taxes. He says constituents need a break.

“To everybody who might hate me for it, I would say that I'm trying not to avoid the problem. I'm trying to incentivize other parts of this community to step up and address this problem,” Armstrong said.

No one else on the council wants to raise taxes either, but the other four councilmembers say they are more open to adding community child care in some way to the FY2024 budget.

“If we have the opportunity, I would love to be able to support this,” Councilmember Tonja Hanson said. “I just have to see all the numbers.”

Councilmember Canice Harte and Vice Chair Malena Stevens expressed similar feelings. Councilmember Chris Robinson thinks "there'll be some compromise" too.

If she had to pick just one program, Schulz recommends the council fund the needs-based scholarship.

To save the tri-share program, Stevens suggested launching a smaller pilot program with a few interested businesses. The county could build on it later when there’s more room in the budget.

The child care problem is unlikely to resolve itself.

Data the Early Childhood Alliance compiled shows child care costs have increased 220% in the last three decades. That’s twice as fast as other necessities like housing and groceries.

In the past four years, the average child care payment per American household has jumped by 32%.

Adding insult to injury, Utah providers’ COVID-era federal money will be gone by June 2024.

The county does seem likely to expand child care for its own employees. There’s $150,000 for it in the county manager’s recommended budget, and it wasn’t on the chopping block as of Wednesday.

The council scheduled a special meeting for Monday morning, when various county department heads will make closing arguments about why their FY2024 requests shouldn’t be cut.

Then it’s time for the first public hearing on next year’s budget, Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. in Kimball Junction’s Sheldon Richins Building.

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