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FEDA head speaks about child care developments

Fairfield Economic Development Association executive director Joshua Laraby addressed the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors Monday about recent developments in child care.

Laraby has been working with Tammy Wetjen-Kesterson, director of Early Childhood Iowa, to meet the huge need for affordable child care within the county and especially in Fairfield. Laraby gave an update on the Jefferson County Childcare Initiative, whose main goal is to make the local economy strong. He noted that 3,000 people commute daily into Jefferson County, coming in from 11 counties in Iowa, Illinois and northern Missouri.

In November 2017, FEDA and the Jefferson County Child Care Steering Committee surveyed 10 local businesses and over 400 of their employees who are currently parents or soon to be parents about their child care needs. The two most mentioned needs outside of better job opportunities were affordable housing and affordable child care.

Laraby said, “It became clear that infrastructure is no longer simply about land, buildings, or financing; the needs for child day care are quickly becoming an infrastructure need.”

Supervisor Dee Sandquist said she recently learned a statistic showing 51 percent of working families here are paying more than 51 percent of their income on housing, which she said is a high percentage. Laraby and Sandquist reported that FEDA and Pathfinders Resource Conservation and Development are addressing this housing issue which is complicated by both the local housing and population, which are aging.

Among the largest employers, such as Cambridge Investment Research and the manufacturing sector, there are white, blue and green collared workers who are searching for new answers to their child care questions. Some parents are opting to leave the work force to stay at home with their children.

Top concerns

For those staying in the work force, the largest percentage requested a conveniently placed child care center, and the next most popular option was more personalized care by a licensed in-home caregiver.

Since December 2017, FEDA, Jefferson County Child Care Steering Committee and Early Childhood Iowa have created grant programs for these three preferred styles of child care, incentivizing new in-home providers up to $7,000 to start. This financing helps offset initial overhead cost, sees them through the time it takes to establish clientele, and any mandatory changes required for their homes. The grant comes in $1,000 increments when providers meet performance benchmarks.

Pekin school was awarded grant funds first, then Maharishi School expanded its preschool, and Sieda Head Start’s 16 part-time slots became full-time openings, meaning in all another 50 new spaces in the county.

New child care center

The third objective in the strategic plan is fulfilling the need to open another early childhood day care center which could provide affordable care for the needed spaces. FEDA facilitated putting together a board of directors for a new independent nonprofit child care center, to be named Jefferson County Kids Inc. The board is made of business leaders in the community.

FEDA is acting as project manager until the group is able to hire a director to carry out the administrative work. They hope to start with 100 to 200 spaces, and then expand. This project has received $25,000 seed money from Jefferson County Foundation in 2018 toward architecture costs to plan such a facility. The child care center board of directors is assessing what is best for the community concerning existing construction, new construction, staffing classrooms, and operational energy needed for future expansion. Also in process is the development of an operational business plan.

There are discussions in the steering committee concerning the different pieces of the planning such as funding and community engagement.

The Jefferson County Kids Board of Directors is looking into leasing or purchasing a site or existing building.

Laraby said he’s been contacted by other Iowa communities and Washington, D.C. because of the community process that’s been led.

Bond market

Jeff Heil of Northland Securities met with Jefferson County Supervisors Lee Dimmitt and Sandquist, and county engineer Scott Cline, to report that the bond market based on treasuries which is usually very flat is seeing rates drop low.

A rate like this has not been seen for around 20 years. How long these rates will remain so is unknown, therefore Heil advised the board to move toward the bonding for the Packwood, Brookville, and Germanville roads.

They discussed the bond options and the best way to offer the bond sales to the public. This will mean a significant savings amount over the life of the 10-year bond issue. Cline said the bids approved for the patching project will start July 22, and he will be letting the bids Wednesday for the resurfacing work on these roads to start this fall or weather permitting first thing next spring. The board approved Heil to begin the rating now.

Mental health

Mental Health coordinator Sandy Stever brought Candace Wonderlich, transition home coordinator at Tenco, Inc., to introduce her to the board. She oversees the Crisis Stabilization Program, 24-hour; (641) 472-7601.

This is a community-based service that provides clients with a diagnosis of mental illness, intellectual disability, or development disability, a guided experience to stabilize in a comfortable, controlled environment.

Clients are able to connect with appropriate resources, and transition to the appropriate levels with hopes of preventing hospitalization and/or court involvement. This program is staffed by professionals who have, at least, a combination of four years of education and/or experience in the field of disability services. It is limited to 42 consecutive days.