Warren, Minnesota, gets creative to fund new child care facility – Grand Forks Herald


WARREN, Minn. – As towns across the region struggle with child care availability, Warren, Minnesota, is implementing an innovative solution to address the town’s shortage of child care spots. This year, the city plans to build a child care facility that will be funded by a local sales tax increase.

Many Minnesota cities implement sales tax increases to fund infrastructure improvements or community facilities, but Warren is the first in the state to use funds generated from a sales tax for a child care facility. Residents narrowly approved the 20-year, half-percent sales tax increase in the Nov. 8 election. Just 15 votes decided the measure.

The sales tax is expected to raise $1.6 million for the design and construction of a new building, which will be leased by Little Sprouts Learning Center, the town’s existing nonprofit child care center. Once completed and fully staffed, the child care center will more than double the number of child care spots at Little Sprouts.

Lindsey Buegler, a Little Sprouts board member, said the new facility will have a big impact on employers in town.

“We have multiple employers in Warren and in the surrounding areas that desperately need the child care so they can continue hiring people and having the community function,” she said.

Leaders in Warren had been working since 2016 to find a sustainable solution to child care. Little Sprouts, which has operated as a nonprofit since 2016, nearly closed the same year.

At the time, Buegler was sending her children to the child care center and had recently joined its board of directors. The closure of the center would have caused her family and others in the community to leave town, she said.

“I was just totally freaking out because my husband and I are not from Warren – we don’t have family members around here,” she said. “There was no child care available at all. Losing the center would have meant we would have had to move and leave Warren entirely.”

So fundraising began. The Warren Economic Development Association helped raise funds for the center to stay open for another 30 days. Ongoing fundraising within the community has helped it stay open since.

“We’ve been trying to find this game plan of what went wrong, how we can make it better and how we can make it sustainable going forward,” said Buegler. “We were really scraping, pinching pennies, doing everything we could to keep it open for the last seven years.”

In 2019, two home daycares in Warren closed, further increasing the need for child care providers in the town.

“We started having a conversation like ‘We need to do something about child care in our community,’” said Shannon Mortenson, Warren city administrator. “Employers were noticing higher absenteeism because there wasn’t daycare available.”

In 2019, Warren became part of the First Children’s Finance Rural Child Care Innovation Program to identify the town’s child care needs, identify goals to address those needs and create an action plan to work toward goals.

Through the Rural Child Care Innovation Program, it was determined that within a 20-mile radius of Warren, an additional 187 child care spots were needed, said Mortenson. Additionally, a survey conducted for the program showed nearly 31% of respondents had declined employment or withdrew from the workforce due to childcare issues.

In the short term, First Children’s Finance helped Little Sprouts reorganize to operate within Minnesota’s child care regulations more efficiently and in the long term, helped come up with a strategic plan for child care.

When completed and fully staffed, the city-owned child care facility will have 110 spots, up from Little Sprouts’ current count of 48. The building will be designed with Minnesota’s required child-to-staff ratios in mind to maximize profitability.

Like other industries, staffing at Little Sprouts is a concern, said Buegler, but Little Sprouts plans to keep pay for staff competitive with other child care providers in the region.

“The building with the sales tax, grant funds and the fundraising is a major part of how we’re able to pay more but not charge more,” she said.

Mortenson says the city aims to start collecting sales tax in April and start construction on the new facility in the spring.

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