NEW CASTLE – For a change, it was almost standing room only at the Craig County Board of Supervisors Meeting on March 6. More than 60 people, many with children in tow, gathered in the courthouse to lend their support to the Craig County Child Care Center’s request for funding.
Sixteen people, including Craig County School Board Superintendent Kelly Wilmore, Child Care Center Director Teresa Oliver, and several center employees and past center employees, spoke in support of the center.
The show of support, the obvious financial need for the center, and supporting documentation by center director Oliver seemed to impress members of the board of supervisors.
They didn’t agree to provide funds for the center, but they did make one unanimous decision about it: to concentrate on support the center’s efforts to find more funds in order to remain open.
In an interview after the meeting, Supervisor Martha Murphy said, “The board of supervisors unanimously decided to support the center’s efforts to find funding. There are many options in the works. As a board, we’re rolling up our sleeves and concentrating on this issue.
“All five board members, along with Richard Flora, our county administrator, have made this a priority. We’re going to put our heads together and find a solution. The response to what we heard and to the documents we were given is that we are going to help them find the resources they need and to grow from this point forward.”
In 2012, the Child Care Center’s revenue was cut $80,000 a year in federal block grant funds. Since then, Craig County officials and leaders of the day care center located in part of the former New Castle High School have been searching for ways to make up lost revenue. One proposal is to place the Child Care Center and The New Castle Commons senior apartment complex – which is also located in the former high school owned by the county – under one umbrella organization. Under that plan, Flora said before the meeting, some of the Commons’ money would be used to help support the Child Care Center.
As Child Care Center board member Debbie Snead said outside the meeting, “The loss of the federal Child Care Block Grant funding has made it difficult for the center since it provided the financial support we needed to operate. Although we have increased parental fees several times, we need to keep the expense affordable for parents. Allowing them to work and knowing their children are in a safe environment, receiving quality preschool education is invaluable to parents.
“We know the board of supervisors realizes the positive impact the center has on families, staff, even the county’s economic development. We also realize they have financial challenges, so we are merely asking for their support in helping the center with a plan for sustainability. We remain encouraged and hope this will become an opportunity for us to thrive and grow,” said Snead, who was one of the founders of the center.
During the public comment session, citizens talked about how much the center meant to them and their children personally. However, Craig County resident Doug Lucas raised another issue.
“When we get together and have these meetings, I wonder if we’re really getting together to decide if we’re going to have a town,” he said. “It’s just one little whack at the base of that tree. One thing leaves, and then another and the town has a danger zone.”
He is not one to put public money into private endeavors, he told the supervisors, but this is one endeavor he said he’d make an exception for.
Oliver agreed with several points Lucas raised. She pointed out jobs the center provides contribute to the local economy as well as providing a service that allows parents and families in the area to continue stay employed in their current jobs.
Without the center, she explained, many parents would have to either find more expensive day care or quit work and stay home to care for their children. Either of those options would negatively impact the community, she said.
School Superintendent Wilmore told the board students who come out of the center easily stand out since they are more prepared for school than those who don’t attend. They’re more socialized, prepared and stable, he said.
Supervisor Murphy said timing was good for supervisors to consider finances, because they are beginning budget preparation for next year.
“We needed to do this and it just happened to be at the beginning of the budget cycle and gave them a chance to voice their opinions, share their information and ask for help,” she said.
The county’s budget is due May 1. Before that date the board spends, “many, many, many additional work session meetings looking at all the county budgets,” Murphy said. Having the information at the beginning of the cycle gives them time to explore options.
“The childcare concerns are ongoing and that (attendance) was different. This is the first time they’ve really come to the county to ask for a significant amount of money beyond their usual operating budget. They’re pretty critical at this point.”
In other matters before the board of supervisors:
• Raymond Lowe, Virginia Department of Transportation, said the county survived the winter’s biggest storms relatively “unscathed” and that as soon as the weather warms up asphalt will be repaired.
• County Administrator Richard Flora told the board that he had received a call from the Virginia Tech Engineering Department. They were looking for a project they could help with.
“Their assessment and project services would be free to the county,” Flora said. “While they won’t actually do any physical work the study they do will get us a long way towards a conceptual plan of what we need to do.”
• Supervisors appointed members to the Social Services board for the Simmonsville District, the Craig-New Castle Public Service Authority board, the Board of Zoning Appeals for Simmonsville District and the Ninth District Development Financing Board.
• During a closed session, members of the board of supervisors discussed how to proceed to hire the next county administrator. Flora has told the board he plans to retire in the next six months.
– Written by Becky Blanton for The New Castle Record