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Effort underway to ease Central Oregon ‘child care desert’


Bend is in the process of making it easier for child care facilities to open and expand — a key issue that has prompted pleas for assistance due to costly development fees.

Families and providers are calling Central Oregon a “child care desert.” That’s because only about 3,000 child care spots are available to about 9,000 children who need care in Deschutes County, according to study by Oregon State University and Portland State University.

To encourage current child care facilities to expand and new facilities to open, a proposal has been put to the Bend City Council to reduce system development charges by 70 percent for child care facilities.

Currently, a facility could face tens of thousands of dollars in charges. Not only does that discourage new facilities, but the cost is passed along to Central Oregon families who are faced with a big decision.

Stephanie Senner is the chair of the Bend Economic Development Advisory Board. She’s also a parent who had to make a tough call when she and her family moved to Bend.

“My husband’s a stay-at-home father because we were unable to find available, affordable child care,” Senner said. “And at the end of the day, we need people in Bend to work. One of the biggest inhibitors to growth for local Bend businesses is not being able to find people to work.”

“If we have available and affordable child care, then people can go to work more than part-time or as much as they want to. And that way, we’re giving people the option to bring in the kind of money they need for their family.”

System development charges are collected to offset the cost of development on existing public infrastructure and, according to Russ Grayson, Bend’s development services director, those fees can get very high.

“That current rate is over $18,000 per thousand square foot of facility. So it’s a significant figure,” Grayson said. “So you’re talking 20, 30, 40, $50,000 for someone trying to open a day care. And for that business model, that’s a pretty significant charge.”

The Bend Chamber conducted a survey over the summer to better understand how child care affects a community. Chamber President Katy Brooks spoke at Wednesday night’s city council meeting to encourage councilors to look at options to ease the burden of child care. Several parents also spoke to the council, as well as a child care center owner facing large fees after moving to a new location.

“This is a huge issue for families. It can cost more than your mortgage every month, depending on how many kids,” Brooks said. “And in addition to that, it really dictates whether or not you enter the workforce. From the employer stance, it impacts productivity, it impacts your ability to grow.”

Along with child care being expensive to provide and pay for, it’s a struggle for families to even find child care.

At Inspire Early Learning Centers in Bend, there are 54 unborn children on the waiting list, and other facilities have wait lists of more than a year.

Executive Director Kara Tachikawa said the conversation around child care is due for a change.

“Child care is not just a women’s issue. It’s not just a young families issue. It really is an economic issue that is affecting our workforce in Central Oregon,” she said. “So if we are able to start providing more options for child care, higher quality, we’re increasing families opportunities right now, employers opportunities to have more employees.”

City Manager Eric King told councilors Wednesday that they will be presented with the ordinance to reduce fees for child care facilities by 70 percent at their next meeting, on Dec. 5. At that time they can pass it as an emergency or take an official vote at the following meeting.

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