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Child care access, costs concern leaders in rural counties

Child care access and costs emerged as the top concern, "by far," when public officials in the Upper Minnesota River Valley were surveyed on the priorities they want addressed by the Regional Development Commission.

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Childcare access and affordability emerged as the number one issue when elected officials were surveyed by the Upper Minnesota River Valley Regional Development Commission in late 2019. Christi Mogler holds a child while also entertaining two other children in the infant room at Discovery Kids child care center in Benson in this Tribune file photo from 2017.

MONTEVIDEO — Child care access and affordability are major concerns for public officials in the Upper Minnesota River Valley counties of Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine.

Child care was the number one topic, “by far,” that public officials in the counties cited when recently surveyed by the Upper Minnesota River Valley Regional Development Commission, said Dawn Hegland, executive director of the commission.

She told the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners that the agency recently surveyed elected and public officials in the counties. The survey included township, school board, city and county elected officials as well as staff. The survey was conducted to help the local RDC set its project goals for the coming year.

Hegland said she expected that child care would be among one of the top concerns, but she was surprised by just how strongly it emerged. It was the top concern across the board.

The survey identified 34 different topics that are on the minds of public officials working for the growth of their communities and counties. Workforce retention was second to child care as an issue of concern, she said.

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Marketing the region, broadband availability, road and bridge funding, and the need to address dilapidated properties followed in the list of the top six priorities.

The Chippewa County Commissioners are currently working with the city of Clara City in hopes of obtaining grant funds for the removal of the former Clara City junior high school facilities. They cited their concerns about the costs of removing blighted properties and the costs to taxpayers for their removal.

Commissioner Dave Lieser pointed out that Yellow Medicine County and the city of Clarkfield recently split a total of $922,000 in costs to remove dilapidated school facilities.

Hegland said there are limited grant funds available for removing dilapidated structures, and competition for those funds is very strong. The Regional Development Commission has hosted meetings with community leaders on the challenges posed by blighted structures.

“There’s no easy solution,” she said.

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