HOUGHTON — Child care leaders and business professionals in the area are trying a new tack to combat the lack of child care slots in Houghton County.
Iola Brubaker, head of the Copper Country Great Start Collaborative, brought up a new child care expansion and incubator proposal at Tuesday’s Houghton County Board meeting.
The county had set aside $200,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds for child care expansion last year.
They would use the funds to develop a business incubator to support small in-home child care centers. With one adult, they can serve up to six children, Brubaker said. That doubles to 12 with a second adult.
“I do realize to meet our child care needs, we’d have to open many, many, many of these,” she said. “But what our hope is, like small businesses, as you get a small business started, it will grow.”
The incubator would also give the new child-care providers knowledge of how to successfully operate a child care business, Brubaker said. It would provide front-end training and one-on-one mentoring; Brubaker cited her experience in navigating the licensing process.
“We have had many businesses in Houghton start and stop, or close, and that’s been leading to some of the challenges,” she said. “Some of this has been stressors put on because they don’t know how to look for substitutes or hire employees or make a business plan.”
A plan submitted to the board outlined a two-and-a-half-year budget. Brubaker estimated five to six new child care providers over that span, creating 120 new child care slots.
A similar program in Marquette County included a 16-week class done with a group of cohorts. That first class yielded 30 new slots from three child care providers.
“We’re going to do a one-on-one coaching so that as soon as someone’s interested, they don’t have to wait for our next cohort, you just provide that coaching with the same curriculum that Marquette has already created, and get them started right away,” Brubaker said.
The board will take up the issue at its December meeting, Tikkanen said. The county also has $781,563 left to be formally obligated.
Administrator Ben Larson asked the board members to think about their preferences for funds before the December meeting. He suggested they think about the impending move of some county facilities to the recently purchased building on Sharon Avenue. The county is working with an OHM engineer on the plans for the building, which should be occupied by mid-2025, he said. The move does not include a possible jail to be built on the property, which would need to be approved through millage.
In other action, the board:
• Heard from new Houghton County Prosecutor Dan Helmer, who was sworn in Tuesday morning. Helmer, a Marquette native, officially starts work on Dec. 4.
Helmer graduated from Cooley Law School in 2011. Unable to find an open position in the Upper Peninsula at the time, he took an assistant prosecutor job in Kent County, which he has held for the past 12 years.
“Now, you can’t find people to take prosecutor jobs, so this opportunity presented itself and I thought, ‘What a great opportunity to come back home and live in a community that’s great like Houghton,’” he said. “So I’m really excited to get started and learn about how things are done here and improve things and really make a difference.”
Helmer replaces Paul LaBine, who was appointed in July but left at the start of September, citing the understaffing in the department. In a release announcing his appointment, Helmer cited filling two assistant prosecutor positions as a priority.
• Approved a purchase agreement to sell the county’s former 911 building to Torch Lake Federal Credit Union Building for $300,000. The agreement now goes to the credit union for final review.
“Due to the advances in technology, and also the fact that our 911 system is handled by the Michigan State Police dispatch out of Negaunee, it’s time to put this property back on the tax rolls,” Chair Tom Tikkanen said.
The tower and county equipment have been removed from the site.
• Heard from Commissioner Roy Britz the Houghton County Road Commission had received a “Goose Egg” award from the County Road Association Self-Insurance Fund for having zero worker’s compensation losses in the previous 12 months. The HCRC was also recognized by the state for having one of the lowest injury rates among road commissions in the previous year.
The former tower and county property have been removed from the site, Tikkanen said.
• Tabled a proposal to participate in the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. The program under the Natural Resources Conservation Service would repair damage from flooding last spring. Seven county sites would be eligible for grants, said Emergency Management Coordinator Chris VanArsdale. Local units would provide a 25% match for the project, the total cost of which is estimated at $180,494.82. The county tabled the issue pending feedback from Schoolcraft Township, Lake Linden or other supporting groups.
• Approved a resolution in support of the Copperwood Mine in Gogebic County by a 4-0 vote.
Commissioner Gretchen Janssen, whose remarks were echoed by Chair Tom Tikkanen, said she appreciated the company’s stated commitment to develop an environmentally sound mine. Tikkanen also said fabricating shops locally would benefit from job creation.
• Approved the county Board of Road Commissioners’ annual compensation package, which includes $2,000 in salary, a $5,000 life insurance policy and mileage compensation.
• Approved membership in the West Michigan Health Insurance Pool for a three-year period.
Heard from Larson the county would save an estimated $5,241 on its electric bill through lights recently installed by Upper Peninsula Power Co. through an energy efficiency program. The program for municipalities, businesses and homes is available at ee.uppco.com/uppco-energy-efficiency-business.