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The Human Services Committee rejected a $250 permit fee for child daycare homes at its Jan. 7 meeting, but passed other changes that bring the City’s ordinance more closely in line with state requirements. The proposed ordinance, referred to the Human Services Committee at the request of Ninth Ward Alderman Anjana Hansen, now moves to Council without the permit-fee provision.

An atmosphere filled with passion, inspiration, intensity and extra chairs greeted Fifth Ward Alderman Delores A. Holmes, presiding over her first meeting as Human Services Committee chair. Responding to a notification sent to local childcare facilities by Director of Health and Human Services Evonda Thomas, childcare providers crowded into meeting room 2402 at the Civic Center. Once the proposed ordinance was introduced and discussion opened, it took only moments for Sixth Ward Alderman Edmund Moran, Jr. to propose an amendment removing the permit fee. Rather than taking an immediate vote on Ald. Moran’s proposal, Ald. Holmes allowed discussion to continue.

Day-care provider Rita Pope began the discussion, questioning the necessity of the fee, since no changes were proposed to the licensing procedure. She encouraged the Committee to seek funds from Northwestern University rather than childcare providers, some of whom, she said, simply cannot afford to pay it. Marsha Fincher said in tough economic times it is not possible for providers to raise prices to cover added permit-fee costs because families are struggling, she said. Quality childcare helps save children from criminal inclinations and furthers the goal of building a community, she added.

Brandishing a copy of her Cook County property tax bill, Fan Falkenberg pointed to the public-safety line item, noting that the City permit includes a fire department inspection. Ms. Falkenberg said the fire inspection, which consists of checking electrical outlets to make sure they are covered and testing the fire alarm, takes all of seven minutes. Property-standards inspections, she said, take even less time. The permit fee, $250 for two years, is not fair for inspections that take about 10 minutes per year, she added. “Do not put Evanston to shame as the first city to charge a permit fee for home day care,” Ms. Falkenberg concluded.

Three more day-care providers followed, mentioning inspections by the state twice a year, subsidized payments such as Head Start that have been frozen by state budget issues, slim profit margins, the need to hire assistants to maintain proper child-to-provider ratios and conflicts between City and state requirements. All day-care providers spoke emotionally and passionately about helping working parents rear children, the long hours their work sometimes entails and the tough economic times.

Ald. Holmes said she recognized that her comments would not be popular, but added that the Council has a responsibility to try to recoup costs for services provided. For years, she said, the City has absorbed the cost of fire and public safety inspections, and now “we have got to bite the bullet.”

Ald. Moran said, “We do a lot of things to try to sustain the City fiscally, but this is the worst possible thing we can do. I am ashamed that we would even consider asking them to pay.” Although she is not a member of the Human Services Committee, Ald. Hansen attended the meeting and told the committee, “The peace of mind of knowing my children were cared for is beyond measure.” She noted that the fees for a landlord owning a six-flat in Evanston are less than what the ordinance proposed for home day care.

The proposed amendment to remove the permit fee passed without opposition. The amended ordinance, which requires background checks and fingerprinting for anyone coming into contact with children at day care over the age of 13 (the same requirement mandated by the state), passed without opposition.

For a longer version of this story, visit evanstonroundtable.com.