In a move that angered some day-care providers, the Baltimore County Council postponed passage last night of a measure that would increase the number of children permitted in family day-care homes.
The council voted unanimously to withdraw a measure that would have increased the maximum number of children permitted in day-care homes from six to eight. The action came after two council members expressed concern about the safety of allowing eight children in one home.
"It could be that eight is too many," said Councilman William A. Howard IV, R-6th.
The council agreed to postpone the measure for two weeks so that members could study it further.
The county's zoning law permits family child-care homes in residential areas but limits the number of children to six. That conflicts with state law that allows as many as eight children in homes licensed by the state Department of Human Resources.
Mr. Howard said day-care providers he's talked with varied in their opinions about how many children should be permitted in homes. He cited the possibility that under the proposed rules, a day-care home could be overburdened, taking in two infants and six toddlers -- all with varying needs.
Mr. Howard and Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st, urged the council to gather more information before deciding.
"If we make a change, I want to be sure that the change is for the best," Mr. Howard said.
That angered Mary Zaleski, president of the Baltimore County Family Day Care Association, who said that the state law raising the maximum to eight children was enacted last August after years of legislative hearings and reports.
The reports pinpointed an extreme shortage of day-care providers in an age of working mothers, she said. The regulations that were adopted spelled out standards of care for providers, she said.
"Our legislature worked four years on this issue. Don't take their work lightly," Mrs. Zaleski, who supervises five children in her Rosedale home, told the council.
She said Baltimore County statistics show that there are 83,360 children under 12 with a working mother in the county. Many of them are in unregulated day care or are left home alone because they have no one to supervise them, she said.
She added that since September she has turned down requests from the parents of nine school-aged children to watch their children because five slots have been filled.
"Postponing it is better than killing it, but I just hope they do thresearch and they'll see the need is out there," she said.
Planning Director David Fields said Baltimore County may be the only jurisdiction in Maryland with zoning regulations for day-care homes that conflict with state law.
Under state law, licenses are issued to providers only after the home is inspected, the provider fingerprinted and a state official specifies the number of children to be permitted in the home, Mrs. Zaleski said. State law prohibits any home from having more than two children under age 2, she said.
Providers also must complete cardiopulmonary resuscitation training and workshops in child development to continue operating, she said.
In other business, the council agreed to transfer $1.5 million from budgetary reserves to the public works budget to cover costs for snow removal incurred during the recent storms.
The council also passed a resolution reserving a 16-acre tract on Harlem Lane, just south of Westowne Elementary School in Catonsville, for use as parkland. The property is being proposed by the Southern Land Co. as a site for 80 town houses.
Ms. Manley requested the resolution, saying development of the site would add to the type of flooding that forced the county to spend roughly $400,000 to buy four homes just south of the property in recent years.
The county has four months to come up with the estimated $1.4 million to buy the property or face turning it back to private hands for development, she said.