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Fallon County seeking $124,000 mill levy to expand childcare

Fallon County seeking $124,000 mill levy to expand childcare
Posted at 6:03 PM, Jun 03, 2024

BAKER — Fallon County is one of two counties in Montana that doesn't have a licensed childcare facility, causing a problem in the workforce that local authorities are trying desperately to fix.

There are just over 30 spots available for childcare at unlicensed facilities in the county but there are over 200 kids aged zero to five in the town. The average price of childcare is $1,400 per month in Fallon County.

“You’re either lucky enough to stay home with your kids and be able to afford that but a lot of people are not able to do that,” said Baker resident Kimberly Van Zee.

Fallon County seeking $124,000 mill levy to expand childcare
Kimberly Van Zee

Van Zee is one of the few fortunate people in the town to have childcare for her three kids, but five years ago when her oldest was just one year old, the town's only licensed daycare facility closed.

“Everybody in the daycare panicked. It was, every single person I think scrambled to find at-home providers like that day,” she said.

There are now only five unlicensed, at-home daycares in Baker, which is why the Eastern Montana Economic Development Authority (EMEDA) is hoping to pass a $123,771 mill levy to expand childcare. If approved, the money would be appropriated to the economic development authority, which would dole it out to providers to boost childcare services in Fallon County.

Fallon County seeking $124,000 mill levy to expand childcare

“It could be helping existing, unlicensed daycares expand or find new employees, or hopefully get themselves licensed. It could help with shared services. It could help with anybody who wants to start a new licensed facility, the money could go towards them,” said Vaughn Zenko, the executive director of EMEDA.

According to the town's last census, almost half of Baker’s 1,800 residents weren’t active in the workforce.

“Forty-five percent of females and 15% of males are not active in the workforce. That’s 800 people in Fallon County,” Zenko said.

Fallon County seeking $124,000 mill levy to expand childcare
Vaughn Zenko

Zenko said for many residents, it's more cost-effective to stay home.

Zenko estimates that if this levy passes, it would add 10 people back into the workforce. Currently, all eight of the restaurants in town are closed on Mondays because they are short-staffed. They also don't have a snowplow driver in town.

“We don’t have essential workers because people don’t work here because there’s no childcare,” Zenko said. “We need to create this from the ground up. There’s not much coming from the state or from the federal government, so we will do it ourselves.”

If the levy passes, the property taxes on a $100,000 home would increase by $2.70 in the first year. On a $300,000 home, the property taxes would increase by $8.10, also in the first year.

“We have to do something to allow people to feel comfortable enough to have a child here without that panic,” Van Zee said.