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Days before vote, early childhood tax get support, criticism

Taylor Wizner
Interlochen Public Radio

A program that’s been providing services to Leelanau County young children for twenty years is out of money. To save it, the program’s supporters are asking the community to pay a five year tax that would keep it afloat. Others argue the program overlaps with other government services.

Research shows the first five years of a child’s life are critical to their development and can have lifelong effects. Leelanau County is asking residents to pay a tax that will continue funding a program supporters claim will help children ages zero to five in the county.

If passed, the millage would raise $3.6 million over five years for services. It would cost most homeowners roughly $50 a year. Those services include organized playgroups, home visits with health professionals and access to mental health counselling for parents.


Nikki McHugh, from Cedar, used those resources when her two sons were young. She moved to Leelanau County 13 years ago and didn’t have a built in support system of family and friends. She relied on the early childhood playgroups with other parents and health workers stopped by when she was overwhelmed.

“My home coordinator arrived with me in pretty much every state you can think of you know from my house being all nice and neat and everything pulled together to tears and exhaustion you know and my house is messy,” McHugh says.

She says the monthly visits gave her personalized support she wouldn’t get anywhere else. McHugh found the health care facilitators so helpful, she started meeting with them even before her second child was born.

“I don’t think she teaches everybody baby massage but that was something I was interested in when he was a newborn,” she says. “And the next few times she would guide me through baby massage you know to help his stomach get comfortable or to help him get sleepy.”


Credit Taylor Wizner / Interlochen Public Radio
Interlochen Public Radio
Nikki McHugh used the county's services when her two sons were young.

Jenifer Murray is a nurse and has worked with parents in the program. Often, it’s just basic things that mothers need help with, she says.

“Working on that bonding, just how to hold your baby when to hold your baby, how to deal with a baby that won’t stop crying. Safe sleep is huge,” Murray says.

She says the visits help families deal with behavior or health issues in ways that can’t be done at a doctor’s office or in preschool. 

“It allows that home visitor to really assess the whole entire environment that that family is living in,” Murray says.

Supporters say the program is preventative and will save the county money in the future. Studies show people who have early childhood programs are less likely to deal with substance abuse, criminal arrests and teen pregnancies.

But the millage doesn’t have everyone’s support. Three of the Leelanau County commissioners are against the millage, mainly because they say there would be overlapping services.

Families below a certain income have access to Head Start and can get home care through the health department during the infant’s first year.

At a public event at the Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor on Monday, a few supporters of the millage explained its benefits. Cedar resident Kelly Claar was there with questions. She wanted to know what measures were in place to monitor the program.

“My own personal concern is transparency of government that the money is well used that there isn’t any wasted money,” Claar says. “And I think another thing that was a concern of mine is it equitable can anyone take advantage of these services.”


This story aired on IPR's weekly podcast Points North. You can listen to the full episode here.

Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.