THE Warilla community will rally over the next eight weeks in an effort to save Warilla Child Care Centre from possible closure.
The operation of the centre is under review after changes to the lease agreement by land-owners – Housing NSW – which announced it would increase the rent to $40,000 a year as of January 1, 2015.
Shellharbour City Council staff report that the increase poses a “significant financial risk” to the council being able to continue the service. Substantial work is also needed to bring the building up standard, with the cost of such work potentially costing the council $140,000 a year.
The council’s recommendation was to seek an alternate provider to run the centre or cease the service.
At last week’s council meeting the matter was deferred until September 2, pending consultation and further investigation.
A council spokeswoman said there were three other providers in Warilla.
“In addition, there are now a number of family daycare operators in the Shellharbour LGA. There is no other long daycare provider in Warilla, however, there are long daycare providers within a few kilometres of the centre,” she said.
The Lake Times found that of the 32 services in the region, 19 long daycare centres were within 10kilometres. Six of these had one to three-day vacancies and the remaining 13 had no vacancies. A further 13 were located more than 15kilometres away, six had limited vacancies and the remaining seven were full.
Karen Clarke has two children at the centre and said the chances of finding other long daycare vacancies in the area were “dismal”.
“I don’t know what I would do if I could only get my kids into a centre that shut at 4pm,’’ she said. ‘‘I have a relatively flexible job, a lot of other parents don’t,” she said.
“It will really affect the parents who only earn a low income. They live close to the centre and they don’t have the money to pay for petrol.”
Currently 61 families use the service and 41 of those receive full childcare benefits. The area is considered the most disadvantaged suburb within the Shellharbour LGA and a 2011 census showed 34.9per cent of families had both parents unemployed.
A grandparent, Garry Grooms said if the service wasn’t available for his three-year-old grandson, Rowen, his wife would lose her job.
“This would have a huge effect on us,” he said. “I work two jobs and she is currently working part-time because she has been ill. If she can’t go back full time she’ll lose her job.”
Councillor Peter Moran said there were many ways in which council could remedy the situation in an area that was significantly disadvantaged.
“Providing opportunities for parents to enter into the workforce is just one of those ways,” Cr Moran said.
“It is important that council and the State Government recognise that in an area with the highest level of child developmental delays and children with special needs, that if services are withdrawn, costs could increase in other areas.”
At the next council meeting on July 22, councillors Moran and Kellie Marsh will move a motion asking the state government to extend the current lease agreement until December 2015.
Member for Shellharbour Anna Watson has called on the state government to renew the $1 peppercorn lease.
“Shellharbour City Council is walking a tight-rope of very few options on the future of the Warilla Child Care Centre,’’ she said.
A spokesperson from Family and Community Services said the department were currently reviewing neighborhood peppercorn leases.
"A decision will not be made until later in the year. In the interim, the department will conduct further discussions with Shellharbour Council on its plans for child care services including the Warilla Child Care Centre."