Julia Shumway
The Bulletin

Bend will slash transportation-based developer fees for new child care facilities in an attempt to address a communitywide child care shortage that business leaders say is keeping some potential employees from moving to Bend and keeping other residents out of the workforce.

The Bend City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to reduce transportation system development charges — fees charged to address the effect new buildings have on city infrastructure — for child care facilities by 70 percent for the next two years. That unanimous vote means the fee reduction will take place immediately after a second procedural vote Dec. 19, rather than waiting an additional 30 days.

“We have three existing child care facilities that are waiting for this decision to be able to stay open, to be able to continue to provide child care,” said Carolyn Eagan, Bend’s economic development director.

One of these is the SHINE Performing Arts Christian Preschool and Kindergarten, which moved this fall from a building on SE Century Drive to the Grace First Lutheran Church on Shevlin Park Road. The move means the preschool can have 70 students at a time, more than double the 30 students it could have in the previous location, Preschool Director Kerri Ellis said.

Opening more space for child care is critical because Deschutes County is estimated to have 7,500 to 9,500 children who need child care but only 3,045 available spaces in child care facilities. But as Ellis’ experience shows, finding space is just the first obstacle.

“Our initial bill came out to $48,000 for the (system development charge) fees, and then, we finagled it down to $20,000,” she said. “I was hoping they’d waive it all together, but 70 percent is better than nothing.”

Transportation charges are based on the number of car trips expected to result from a new building. Child care facilities have higher transportation fees than other buildings: they’re set at $18,639 per 1,000 square feet, while a warehouse pays $3,165, and a movie theater pays $16,369 for the same space.

“The manual we were using at the time really was assuming that I was leaving home, dropping my daughter off at day care and going back home,” Eagan said. “We were not taking into account the fact that my trip was just part of another trip.”

The reduction is intended to sunset in 24 months because the city plans to overhaul its SDC methodology over the next two years.

The City Council rejected a proposal from Councilor Justin Livingston to completely eliminate the transportation charges for the next two years. Livingston compared the child care shortage to Bend’s affordable housing crisis and pointed out the council voted last year to waive road, sewer and water for new affordable housing developments.

“The data that we’ve received is that this is a crisis,” he said. “No different than affordable housing, if we want to get more of something, we get out of the way, and the market will provide it.”

Reducing fees is a start, said Ellis, and it will help her preschool obtain a permanent permit instead of the temporary occupancy permit it’s been using for the past couple months.

But she said there’s work to be done to simplify the process of opening child care facilities, which haven’t kept pace with Bend’s growth.

“I had been looking for over two years for a building,” she said. “It’s almost impossible between the state laws and the city requirements. The city could do a better job of fast-tracking human service-related businesses that are just trying to help people in the community.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com