The Family Education and Support Centre is asking the city to share some of its land at four locations, and tap into what could be millions of provincial dollars to create up to 460 new daycare spaces.
But Maple Ridge council has concerns and wants more information, while time is ticking on some of the funding.
“I’m not a fan of government being in the child-care business. I think we should stick to governing and not looking after child care,” said Coun. Ahmed Yousef at council’s Dec. 10 workshop.
Under the new Childcare BC New Spaces Fund, the province will give up to $3 million per site, to subsidize new daycare construction.
After discussions, the family education centre and city staff have chosen four possible sites where new daycares could spring up in modular buildings, if the city provides the land at no cost, through 15-year leases.
Those locations are: the Albion Sports Complex on 104th Avenue, Pioneer Park on 230th Street, Volker Park on 123rd Avenue, along with an empty lot next to Eric Langton elementary in the downtown.
Mayor Mike Morden though said that initially, daycares were privately operated businesses but the new provincial government is turning it into a subsidized business.
“The private sector usually can sort these things out but now it’s not an equitable game to start with,” Morden said.
He said the city wants to ensure there are enough daycare space and wanted to hear staff comments.
Last summer, the Family Education and Support Centre received another $702,000 from Employment and Social Development Canada to provide start-up funding for new daycare centres.
However, if that money is unused by next March, it will have to be returned.
According to a staff report, the city and the family education centre would make a joint application to the Childcare BC New Spaces Program.
If the money is awarded for a particular site, the city would provide the land via a 15-year lease and help with neighbourhood consultation.
Coun. Kiersten Duncan was the only councillor favouring the partnership with the Family Education Centre. A A majority of council voted to return it to staff for more information.
“It doesn’t make sense at all to turn that down,” Duncan said. “We’re just losing good money and the opportunity for residents … to have affordable child care … and that’s what we’re doing if we turn this money down,” Duncan said.
Coun. Gordy Robson said the new operations would be competing with private daycares which have to pay property taxes. “And I don’t think that’s fair.”
As well, a daycare centre in the Albion Community Centre will have to pay rent to the city, he noted.
Instead, he suggested the Family Education Centre ask the school district if there’s room on some school grounds for new daycare facilities.
He added that the city is now encouraging residential developers to include daycares into their projects.
Coun. Judy Dueck said it seems more logical for the school district to be involved.
“It really comes down to the equity piece. As much as I support the Family Education Centre, my struggle is what message are we sending to other daycare operators?”
She said other operators could ask for free property as well and that the whole community must be considered.
Last year, most private daycare operators in Maple Ridge said that they wouldn’t participate in the government’s fee subsidy program saying that would prevent them from raising fees in the future.