WATERVILLE — Mayor Karen Heck on Thursday urged legislators not to remove funding that affects children and health care, saying Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to cut costs will have a negative impact locally.

In her first press conference as mayor, Heck said cuts to the Fund for a Healthy Maine and Child Care Development Fund will interfere with early childhood care and education that is critical to a child’s success and a healthy economy.

The interference also costs a community later in terms of health, education and police services, she said.

“Every dollar invested in the childcare sector of the economy generates $1.78 in local spending, creating a larger impact than the sectors of transportation, construction and retail, just to name a few,” Heck said. “So, we’re talking about projected loss to the local economy of $157,000 in the coming year.”

Heck was joined Thursday by School Superintendent Eric Haley, who said that once a child who has not had his needs met reaches high school, it is too late. Costly remedial efforts do not work.

“Please do not cut these funds,” Haley said, who is superintendent for Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro. “We need to invest in these children.”

Those who have good care and healthy relationships in the first three years of life develop a sound foundation, according to Heck. Toxic stress in a child’s life because of domestic violence, poverty and substance abuse curb that development, she said.

“I’m taking the time to explain this because the proposed cuts to quality early childhood education and care will affect the taxes needed to support Waterville’s future health, education and police costs,” she said.

Heck said LePage, former Waterville mayor, proposes to eliminate 300 positions in Head Start, which is funded by the state and administered by Kennebec Valley Community Action Program. The cuts would eliminate one classroom for 16 infants and toddlers and a classroom for 17 three- and four-year-olds, according to Heck.

LePage Press Secretary Adrienne Bennett said Thursday only 150 slots are funded through the Fund for Healthy Maine:

“Twenty-eight million dollars will still be available in federal funding,” she said. “Additionally, $2.5 million form the general fund will be available and this program will continue to run, serving hundreds of children.”

The governor’s plan, according to Bennett, shifts Fund for Healthy Maine money to Medicaid in an effort to protect some of the state’s most vulnerable. The Maine Tobacco Helpline has been an effective resource for Mainers and $6 million in funding, as well as products such as nicotine replacement therapy for that program will remain in place, she said.

Haley said that Educare Central Maine, the early childhood education program in Waterville, is producing “amazing,” results in just two years, indicating that early intervention works.

Proposed elimination of home visiting services will affect 375 families served by KVCAP, according to Heck. The program promotes positive parenting and enhanced parent-child relationships. Maine was awarded a $30 million, 5-year grant to expand that program and the money will be lost if cuts are approved, she said.

She also cited proposed cuts to MaineCare that would hurt the Community Dental Clinic in Waterville.

“The clinic served 2,600 MaineCare patients last year, most of them children,” she said.

Heck spoke to about 25 people, including residents, police and representatives of agencies that work with children. City Manager Michael Roy also was on hand.

Deputy police Chief Charles Rumsey said after the press conference he does not have an answer about how best to solve funding problems, but police every day see examples of what doesn’t work — children whose homelife includes domestic violence, substance abuse or absent parents.

As to proposed cuts in MaineCare, Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, said the state is struggling to find ways to pay for a $220 million shortfall in its welfare system.

“We no longer can afford to pay for an overly generous welfare program,” she said. “Funds from Washington have dried up and the cost cannot be shifted to our taxpayers. To call this proposal ‘cutting’ is not entirely accurate because the reality is, we have been overspending for years.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

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