Beth Weldon and supports react to a lead in the polls as results came in live at Election Central at City Hall on Oct. 2, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Beth Weldon and supports react to a lead in the polls as results came in live at Election Central at City Hall on Oct. 2, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

New mayor forms child care task force

Group will examine city’s role in child care, gauge public opinion

On the night of her election as mayor, Beth Weldon said in an interview that one of her main priorities in her new office is addressing the shortage of child care in Juneau.

During her first meeting in her new office, Weldon took the first step in doing that.

Weldon announced Monday that she is forming a task force of Assembly members and community members to evaluate what role the City and Borough of Juneau can play in making sure parents have options for their young children.

Weldon said there are two questions she’d like the task force to focus on: Should child care be part of our core municipal activities? Should education be part of child care? The answers to these questions, Weldon said, will likely come from people in the community.

“My main reason of forming this special Assembly committee is to get feedback from the public and figure out exactly what their wishes are,” Weldon said.

Weldon said she pictures the task force having seven members: four Assembly members, one person in the child care business, one person from the Juneau School District administration and one person from the greater business community in town. She said she’d like to see Assembly members volunteer for spots on the task force.

A memo from City Manager Rorie Watt was handed out at Monday’s meeting to state the goals of the task force. He proposed the task force figure out the municipal role in child care, possible funding methods and the public’s opinion on these questions.

This year in particular, the issue of child care has been a regular topic at Assembly meetings. There was nearly a ballot measure this fall that would have had the city publicly fund an initiative called Best Starts that aimed to give child care providers financial incentives to try and encourage the growth of the industry. Property taxes would have increased to fund the program.

The vote about whether to put the initiative on the ballot was held after Weldon had resigned to run for mayor. Former Assembly member Norton Gregory also had resigned to run for mayor.

Four of the seven Assembly members voted to put the initiative on the ballot, but the motion failed. Even though there were only seven sitting Assembly members, the city’s charter dictates that an ordinance has to have five yes votes to pass.

One of the votes against putting it on the ballot was former Mayor Ken Koelsch, who said prior to the vote that he believes the issues of child care and education can be separated. Weldon’s task force will delve into this question specifically, looking to see what the benefits and detriments are of trying to provide child care and early education together versus providing just child care.

“The Assembly has not discussed whether it believes that it should play a role in one or both of these issues,” Watt wrote in his memo. “Or maybe they are so closely related that the distinction is immaterial.”

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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