Commissioners opt to delay ruling on child care marketing money
By BECKY KISER
The Hays Chamber of Commerce will receive a one-time cash influx of up to $45,000 for operating expenses next year from the city of Hays.
The vote was 3-1-1 with Commissioner Sandy Jacobs voting no and Commissioner Reese Barrick abstaining.
However, another agenda point, a request for $15,000 in city money to help match $30,000 from the local Schmidt Foundation for a new child care provider awareness campaign, was tabled until the Dec. 8 commission meeting.
Both presentations were made by Sara Wasinger, Hays Chamber president/CEO.
Earnest discussion of the two requests lasted more than 90 minutes.
At one point, Wasinger became tearful as she responded to questioning from Commissioner Michael Berges, and she left the podium to compose herself.
Dana Stanton, Hays resident and child care program director for the Norton-based Northwest Kansas Economic Innovation Center, then went to the podium from her seat in the audience to continue answering questions about the marketing plan.
Wasinger initially appealed for the one-time operations money when the city was working on its 2023 budget allocations earlier this year.
The funds would be used "to help pay our staff a more equitable pay to be able to retain them. With four full-time staff on hand, it does give me the ability to spend more time off-campus to be able to work on issues such as child care and things of that nature," Wasinger told the commission in July.
Commissioners later decided the request would not be part of the general fund's outside agencies monies, and instead, if approved at some point, should come from the commission's reserve fund.
With three boys of his own and a wife who also works, Berges said he has been "acutely aware" of the shortage of child care workers.
Wasinger said several civic support groups and businesses are also considering making donations to the awareness campaign.
"This is an unfunded project that our community is working on," Wasinger noted. She estimated more than $20,000 worth of chamber staff time has been used this year working on child care needs.
"[Hays Chamber is] doing our very best job to be as responsible as possible — seeking grant funds — whether that be from a national perspective, state perspective or regional perspective. And it is our desire to get the business community more involved.
"... Going back to our businesses to ask for them to further support financially a cause such as this when we are implementing a 10 percent dues increase for next year does make things a little bit challenging."
The Ellis County Commission has already approved a similar $15,000 appeal.
Berges was troubled by the two requests.
"You're asking for monies from the city for the chamber and it's not within a vacuum. Because within the chamber's [$45,000] request to us, one of the top things was facilitating a child care task force.
"... To me [the chamber] can kind of use that money where they need to, [including] grant matches. As we've discussed, it's kind of more for operations and hiring somebody and those kind of things to help your budget. But to me, it can also be used to match grants," he said.
Berges had another concern he addressed to Wasinger.
"You're taking this [child care] task on but you run the chamber. ... In a way, these [requested] funds are being used for advertisement to hire somebody. But essentially, it's you that's running everything.
"That seems again, to really mix roles on what these two different things are supposed to do. But right now it seems it's all on your shoulders," Berges said as he gestured toward Wasinger standing at the podium.
"We have a very wonderful task force that's putting in a lot of time from a management standpoint," Wasinger began in response.
She paused for a moment, apologized for getting emotional, and left the podium.
At that point, Stanton came forward to continue the conversation until Wasinger returned.
"Child care is an emotional issue," interjected Sandy Jacobs, city commissioner.
After more discussion, the commission directed Wasinger to continue soliciting more matching grants from local businesses and the community. They postponed a vote on the city’s matching grant until the December 8 meeting.
Kim Rupp, finance director, said funds for the $45,000 request will be encumbered, but will not be paid until the request is made. If the request is less than the $45,000, the requested amount is what will be paid.
In other business, commissioners approved fee increases at both the Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course and the Hays Aquatic Park. The current rates for both are among the lowest in Kansas according to Jeff Boyle, parks director.
The commission approved flat fee rates of $3.50 for Wilson Pool and $4.50 for the Hays Aquatic Park for the 2023 swim season.
The increases will help narrow the gap between revenue and operating expenses. Boyle and the commissioners all pointed out the golf course and the municipal swimming pool are quality of life amenities and not expected to make a profit for the city.
The increased trail fees will allow the city to begin a project to replace the front 9, hole 10, and hole 18 cart paths.
The commission also approved the low bid from J Corp, Hays, of $629,573 for waterline improvements in 2023. The bid was well below the engineer's estimate.
The 2023 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) listed these water main projects to be funded by Water Capital with the following estimates of cost:
• 23rd from Hall to Elm - $193,000
• 24th from Hall to Canal - $192,000
• Cottonwood from 27th to 29th - $310,000
Total CIP budget estimate - $776,000
Engineer’s estimate - $903,644
In add-on comments, Commissioner Barrick said he attended the Kansas Museum Association meeting and commended the Ellis County Historical Society (ECHS) for being awarded a grant to scan past Hays Daily News articles for future use. ECHS also received an award for graphic design for one of their traveling exhibits.