Monterey County Board of Supervisors accepts petition for child care ballot measure

SALINAS — The Monterey County Board of Supervisors Tuesday accepted a petition to place an initiative on the ballot that would attempt to increase and improve licensed child care and early learning in Monterey County with a special parcel tax.

The supervisors will vote July 26 to place the item on the Nov. 8 ballot.

“At that point, I will ask for full board support for the initiative at that time,” board Chair Mary Adams said, after thanking everyone who helped collect signatures for the measure.

After speaking to the Board of Supervisors in support of the measure, Monterey County Superintendent of Schools Deneen Guss told The Herald the initiative would be a tremendous boost to early childhood education efforts in the county.

“We all know that if our youngest learners, which are our babies, if they have high-quality child care right from the get-go, they’re going to be so much better prepared for school,” she said.

Guss said children arriving unprepared in the TK-12 system is a huge issue in Monterey County.

“Unfortunately, so many of our families can’t afford child care, and I get it,” she said. “I’m here not only as a community member and as a parent but also as an employer. I have employees that are educators that cannot afford child care. Today, the going rate for child care that’s not subsidized is about $1,200 or $1,300 or more a month. My employees can’t afford it. So can you imagine if you are somebody working in hospitality or ag and you have even a lower salary?”

Monica Lal, president/CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, told the supervisors the chamber is in full support of the measure.

“As our local economy rebounds from the worst of the pandemic, there’s been an increased awareness of the need of child care services in our community,” she said. “Employers are eager to hire local workers for important jobs in hospitality, agriculture and health care, and other vital industries.”

Maria Rodriguez, a program coordinator for Mujeres en Acción, spoke from her personal experience in explaining her support for the ballot initiative.

“I have been through the challenges that many mothers have regarding child care,” she told the supervisors. “I had to stop working because I didn’t earn enough to pay for child care.”

Rodriguez said high costs and long waiting lists were barriers that stopped her from finding child care until she received help from Mujeres en Acción and became economically self-sufficient.

Based on their reactions at Tuesday’s meeting, it appears likely the Board of Supervisors will back the measure when it returns to the agenda in two weeks. All of the supervisors spoke out in support of the initiative.

Supervisor Chris Lopez recounted a story from the campaign trail when two women asked him what he was going to do to help them get off a waiting list and find child care.

“She had a child on her hip and she looked me square in the eyes and said, ‘What is your plan?’ It was a challenge and I took that challenge personally,” he said during the meeting, talking to supporters of the measure. “What you guys have done today is given me an opportunity to say that I’m supporting you and your efforts, and that’s what I’m doing.”

The initiative would be funded with a $49 special parcel tax on each parcel of real property in Monterey County, raising $5.5 million annually, for 10 years. The money would stay within local control, meaning it wouldn’t be cut or taken by the state.

The revenue accrued would be held in reserve to be used solely for project implementation, according to the initiative’s website. The Monterey County Children and Families First Commission, also known as First 5 Monterey County, would then develop, administer and oversee a budget and program plan, updated every three years. Started in 1998, First 5 Monterey County is a local commission of a statewide program that provides services to children through age 5.

Allocation of special tax funds to the commission would come through the County Board of Supervisors. And, in tandem with the commission, initiative organizers propose a citizen oversight committee to make program and budget recommendations, as well as prepare an annual report on project progress. The ballot initiative suggests a 15-member committee, with members representing the licensed child care community, local business sectors and industries and education interests from kindergarten to college.

Contributed by local news sources

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