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Board objects to proposed child care policies

MORRIS -- The Stevens County Board of Commissioners discussed proposed policies for licensed child care homes, approved a gravel lease agreement and appointed a county coroner at their meeting on Tuesday morning.

The discussion over new policy began when Stevens County Human Services Director Joanie Murphy presented the board with a draft of policies for licensed child care homes. Current rules require a provider that takes care of children from more than one family to have a license.

Murphy said the proposed policies were practices that various licensors had been enforcing over the years, but that are not stated explicitly in state statutes or other rules. At this time, Stevens County does not have any written policies for licensed child care homes above and beyond what the state mandates.

"It's really about helping the licensor do their job better. It's about creating consistency from one licensor to another," said Murphy. "It's hard for us to operate ... if it's not reduce to writing and if it's not part of the official county policy."

The proposed policies range from requirements for testing fire extinguishers to recommendations for fines to explanations for how diapers and garbage need to be contained.

One proposed policy in particular that raised eyebrows among the commissioners concerned clarified requirements for fences surrounding outdoor play areas. Under the current Minnesota statute, fences "may be required" under certain circumstances like proximity to dangerous situations or materials.

As the suggested policy is written, Stevens County Human Services could require a fence under much more specific circumstances (the proposed fence policy is written in full at the bottom of this article and a full list of proposed policies is attached to this story).

"There aren't many [providers] that have fences," said Commissioner Larry Sayre. "There's a few in town, but the majority do not. This one kind of perks me up."

"It looks to me like we're making more regulations than there already are," said Commissioner Ron Staples. "Why are we doing that? What about the day care provider? We have to care about them too. The day care provider has to have some responsibility."

On the whole, the commissioners were reluctant to proceed with the new policies without more input.

"There are two steps that would make me a lot more comfortable in terms of adopting new policy," said Commissioner Paul Watzke. "The first thing would be a tremendous amount of input from the day care association. The second would be to lay it next to a county that has adopted something to see if we're over-restrictive or under-restrictive."

"My concern with the rules is that you need to find rules and then they need to be applied consistently," said Commissioner Jeanne Ennen. "[Providers] also need to be informed of the rules."

Murphy told the board she would communicate with local child care providers, get feedback and resubmit a draft of the policies soon.

Gravel pit to open soon

The commissioners approved a gravel lease agreement with Leonard Wulf and Sons to stockpile and remove gravel from a tract of land in the southwest quarter of Section 21 for five years. The county will pay to excavate the gravel, as well as an initial royalty of $1.15 for each cubic yard of gravel removed.

"Hopefully we'll be crushing in there in a couple of weeks. If all things don't fall into line, hopefully we'll be crushing there in October," County Engineer Brian Giese told the board.

Other business

The board voted to appoint Dr. Michael Busain as the Stevens County coroner, retroactively to January 1, 2011. They also voted to appoint Dr. John Stock as the assistant coroner.

The board approved the purchase of a new van for Stevens County Veterans Services for $31,467.39. No local funds were used to purchase the van, County Coordinator Brian Giese told the board.

The board approved two-year contracts with 50 area health providers through Stevens Traverse Grant Public Health.

Stevens County Human Services Policies for Licensed Child Care Homes

This is the proposed policy for fences around outdoor play spaces:

Stevens County Human Services Child Care Policy requires a fence enclosing the outdoor play area space at a licensed child care home if one of the following is true:

  1. The home is located adjacent to a state highway;
  2. The home is located adjacent to a street with a speed limit of 30 mph or less and the play area is less than 50 feet from the curb;
  3. The home is located adjacent to a street or road with a speed limit of more than 30 mph and the play area is less than 100 feet from the curb;
  4. The play area is within 150 feet of a railroad track;
  5. The play area is within 100 feet of a water hazard (includes swimming pools more than 24 inches high);
  6. A fence is required by the agency for good cause. Examples include but are not limited to: the home is located next to an adjacent property where dangerous dogs or other animals are kept, or to a home where known sex offenders reside, or to a home where there is an electric fence.

The fence must be a minimum of 48 inches high. It must be sturdy, with no openings large enough for children to crawl through.