County Commissioners debate fundraising for additional daycare pods

After the official signing of daycare pod agreements, the Stevens County Commissioners turned their attention to whether or not they should pursue the construction of additional pods. The six daycare pods constructed by the county through American Rescue Plan funds were taken on by the county to address the severe shortage of daycare in the county. The six pods, costing over $1 million dollars, will soon be open and adding 65 spots the first year and 112 places for children in the second year.

At their last meeting the commissioners were presented with a proposed letter that could be sent to businesses and homeowners in the county. The letter would outline what has been spent on the current pods, what is still needed to finish those and then address the possibility of building six more pods at the same location. The county would not have ARPA funds to help pay for these pods.

When opening up the applications for daycare providers to rent the pods, the county received eight very good applications for the six spaces. Contracts were awarded and approved earlier in the meeting. The providers will be Devin Ascheman in #2 pod, Sarah Arndt in #4, Jaelene Todd in #6, Jade Michaelson in #8, Jen Mackendanz in #10 and Sophie DeToy in #12. Todd and Mackendanz will open on July 1, Michaelson on July 21, DeToy on August 1, and Ascheman and Arndt on September 1.

Five out of the six of these providers are new to the area. The sixth who currently runs a daycare will be increasing her capacity. With the new pods all filled the county commissioners will now need to decide if they should pursue additional construction. Something they also need to take into consideration is the expansion project at the Morris Area Child Care Center and the possible construction of a daycare center in Hancock. The Hancock group is currently looking for a new site since the site they initially planned on was sold.

Councilmember Patricia Lesmeister-Nelson stated that she thought the letter would be a good way to let the public know what is going on. She also asked what the rental income from the pods would be used for. City Administrator Rebecca Young stated that the rental income would basically cover maintenance and repairs. The providers will be paying utilities and the rent amount was kept low in order to help the providers get a good start. 

“If we move forward with sending the letter, we need to have a set goal such as a dollar amount.” stated Commissioner Ron Staples. “I feel that as a county we have done our part to address the need. I am not in favor of moving to the construction of more pods. I feel that now we might be competing against other groups who are raising funds for other projects.”

Councilman Jeanne Ennen, who also sits on the daycare board, felt that by sending out the letter, the county would be creating a vehicle for those who want to make a donation. She added that some of the larger employers in the county may want to donate so that they can get employees who will have daycare available. “The letter also states that the donations can be used for grants for current daycares,” she explained.

County Commissioner Bob Kopitzke agreed that in some ways it would be good to get the businesses involved because they benefit a great deal by increasing the daycare capacity in the area. Another option the county could have is to sell part of the purchased land back and use that money for more daycare pods.

There will be some money needed to finish the pods. The county received a matching grant for the fencing, playground sets, sheds and blinds and the bids for some of these items were approved. However, the county will still need to do landscaping, sodding, and then fencing to enclose the yard space for each unit. 

Young told the commissioners that she could update the numbers to see how much is actually still needed before a final decision is made about sending out the letter. This will be revisited at the June 20 county commissioners meeting. The letter will also be reviewed and revised before that meeting.

Also approved, and related to the daycare pods, was for an organics drop station in the parking lot. This will be installed before July 1 and can be another location for the public to drop off organics. 

In the staffing report, three new hires were approved. Katelyn Silver was approved as a Child Protection Worker, Samantha Dokken as a Dispatcher/jailer and Sara Fuhrman as an intern in the child protection agency. The commissioners approved a Memorandum of Understanding declaring June 19 as a holiday and Young will be updating all the language in employee contracts for this holiday and the October holiday.

Jessica Green of Northland Securities presented a report on the bond sale to finance work on County Ditch 16. The commissioners approved the bond sale for $1,908,000. 

The date of the first Tuesday in July, when the Commissioners would typically have a meeting, is July 4. It was decided to not meet on this holiday and hold only one meeting in July on July 18.