SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. - On Nov. 19, Sun Prairie City Council members will make a final vote on the 2020 budget. One of the most controversial proposals is the tax increase to provide babysitting services at city meetings.
Alders Theresa Stevens and Emily Lindsey proposed the idea.
"I feel that in my position as one of two women on our council with younger children, it was one of those opportunities for me to highlight this issue," Stevens said.
At a City Council meeting Tuesday, Lindsey said that the reason they proposed the idea was because they have "heard from constituents, 'Well, I'd like to come to the meeting to talk about this proposal or that proposal but I can't do it because of family obligations.'"
The idea is to run the service for a year and monitor it along the way to measure its success by how many people are using it and if it allows more people to become involved in city government discussions.
Stevens said the Parks and Recreation Department would hire two people to provide babysitting services.
Mayor Paul Esser said he is in favor of the idea although he was not involved in the creation of it nor was it proposed to City Council under the initial budget.
Esser said, "I do have reservations about it once we go into this, and we need to monitor it. My concern is there could be people attending these meetings that are doing care for adults that have needs where they can't be left alone. Senior care -- that maybe needs to be part of it as well. We need to be equitable for people who have senior issues, too, and those tend to be people who are more active in city government as well."
Esser said a misconception about the plan was that the babysitting service would be only for city employees. Esser said the service would be for the community to use.
Some members of the community, however, do not agree that their tax dollars should be used for this service.
"There's many options they have. It's just not a good use of our money," said Sun Prairie resident Patty Murray. "It's a nice thought but I think it could be put to better use."
Resident Keith Salscheider agreed, saying, "At some point, you have to draw the line and say, 'Get a babysitter yourself.' Don't put that on the taxpayers."
Stevens said the average household would pay 16 cents per month to fund the service.
"I think that's a fair price to pay to encourage everyone to have a voice at the table," Stevens said.
At the City Council meeting Tuesday, Alder Mary Polenske opposed the idea saying, "I don't think that a lot of people are going to be bringing their children in here when we have a meeting."
Alder Maureen Crombie disagreed and said, "I think we would find more people that would support this than people that are out there on social media."
Many people on social media have voiced strong opposition to the idea, although several have said that they are in favor of it.
But Stevens said no one who has voiced their opposition online has shown up to any of the meetings to say so.
"At our last meeting, no one came," Stevens said. "All of the comments were on Facebook or social media."
The City Council will have a final vote at its meeting Nov. 19. Members of the public are welcome to attend to provide additional comment and voice their opinions on the matter.
"We want to really test that and see if this is a need, and if this is the one road bump that's keeping people from really participating," Stevens said. "Give it an honest try. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work."
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