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County Proposal to Cut Child Care Sparks Protest

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A taxpayer-subsidized child-care program for Ventura County employees has been targeted for elimination as part of a new round of cost-cutting measures, sparking protests from some parents.

“The thought that county government no longer considers the sponsorship of care for employees’ children as important as any other program frankly leaves me kind of flabbergasted,” Selfa Saucedo told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Saucedo, a Public Health Services employee, said that if the county-subsidized program is eliminated, her child-care costs for her two young boys would increase as much as $30 a week, or more than $1,000 a year.

She urged the board to reconsider the proposal, saying many private businesses have found that providing some type of child-care program for workers is a wise investment.

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“Employees relieved of anxiety concerning their children’s welfare provides the employer with less absenteeism, more productive labor and a more positive and dedicated attitude,” Saucedo said.

For the past six years, the county has paid a portion of the lease on the Peppermint Junction child-care center in Ventura at a cost of $38,100 a year. In return, the facility offers child-care services to county employees at a 15% to 20% discount. Currently, 57 children of county employees are enrolled in the program.

But faced with a projected $19-million budget deficit, the county is looking to cut costs wherever it can. As part of a reorganization of the county Personnel Department, which oversees the child-care program, it has been proposed that the program be eliminated.

Board Chairman Frank Schillo said this is only one of many tough decisions the board will have to wrestle with when it begins its budget study sessions next week.

“It’s worth considering keeping,” Schillo said of the child-care program. “But then if we have to knock off some other program that’s maybe more important to our constituents, then maybe it isn’t.”

Supervisor Judy Mikels said she was concerned that only a few employees are benefiting from the program, while most workers have to pay full price. Employee applicants to the child-care program are chosen based on need and gain entry on a first-come, first-served basis.

“It’s not that I don’t believe we should be doing something,” Mikels said. “But I have a little difficulty with the way we’re doing it. And I would like to suggest that we look into alternative ways of helping to support working moms and dads.”

The supervisors agreed Tuesday to postpone a decision on eliminating the child-care program to give themselves more time to gather information and to study possible alternatives.

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Robin Briceno, a Mental Health Department employee with two children in the child-care program, said providing some form of child-care assistance is essential in today’s working environment.

“I don’t believe that this is a benefit to employees,” she said. “I feel it’s a necessary part of the support that my employer provides to me so that I can provide productive services to the county.”

Also Tuesday, the board approved eliminating funding for two full- and two part-time positions in the Personnel Department as part of its reorganization. This combined with the proposed elimination of the child-care program would save the county an estimated $257,200.

But Personnel Director Ronald Komers said it is unclear whether there would be any layoffs. He said that if the county can find other sources of revenue, such as grant money, the positions may be saved.

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The board also decided to change the name of the Personnel Department to the Human Resources Department to better reflect the broad range of services it provides.


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