FOREST CITY | The City Council has approved a $25,000 Tax Increment Financing appropriation request from the YMCA Daycare program for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Bruce Mielke, executive director of the Forest City Family YMCA, came to the Jan. 21 council meeting to give an update on the program.
In 2017 the Forest City YMCA merged with the Hanson Family Life Center to create a single child care program.
Mielke said that created more openings and reduced the number of children on the waiting list, which had been as high as 70.
The program currently has three child care locations: The YMCA, the Hanson Family Life Center and Forest City Elementary.
The school district has a partnership with the YMCA in which 4-year-olds can spend half the day in daycare and the other half in preschool.
The YMCA uses classroom space at Forest City Elementary for day care, while the school district operates the preschool program in a separate space in the building.
Mielke said there's currently a waiting list of 26 children for day care, most of them infants and those who haven't been born yet.
When fifth grade is moved to the Forest City Middle School this fall, that will open up an entire wing at the elementary for child care for 3-year-olds, which in turn will mean more space at the Hanson Family Life Center for infants, he said.
Last year the city gave the program a $50,000 TIF appropriation.
Mielke said half of that amount has been spent and the other half set aside for modifications that will need to be made at the elementary for child care and at the Hanson Family Life Center so it can accept more infants.
The greatest challenge is staffing, according to Mielke.
"We constantly struggle with finding people who are the right fit for child care work," he said.
One solution the YMCA wants to try is sign-up bonuses and recruitment bonuses, according to Mielke.
"We just need to be as creative as possible," he said.
Local employers, foundations, the school district and the city all contribute toward the child care program, according to Mielke.
Councilman Ron Holland asked which employers in the community have the most employees with children in the YMCA Daycare program and how much money those companies donate.
Mielke said Winnebago Industries is the most represented employer of parents with kids in the program, and the company's charitable arm, the Winnebago Foundation, contributed $5,000 to $10,000 this past year.
The Hanson Family Foundation, which has always been a strong supporter of the child care program, recently donated $45,000, according to Mielke.
Councilman Tony Mikes said a lot of children in the Forest City are being sent to unlicensed daycare providers because of shortage of licensed operators.
"That's just not safe for the kids," he said.
The $25,000 TIF appropriation would help ensure more children receive child care from a licensed provider, according to Mikes.
The council voted 6-1 on the appropriation, with Holland voting no.