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Turkey, Ham Gift Cards Trigger Debate in Taylor Mill

Each year, the City of Taylor Mill gives each of its employees and elected officials a gift card worth $15 to be placed towards the purchase of a ham or turkey for the holiday season.

On Wednesday night that nearly changed after a pair of city commissioners took exception to the tradition.

City administrator Jill Bailey said the city had already printed the gift certificates, but after receiving an email from Commissioner Phil Peace, brought the issue to the full city commission before proceeding.

"I was the dissenter," Peace said at the meeting. "We have a $100,000 hole in the budget. You can't give away the farm and cut on the other end. I know I won't be popular, I might even be called the Grinch who steals the roast beef. But we have to get serious about the cuts."

Mayor Dan Bell took exception to Peace's statement, arguing that the city doesn't have a budget deficit.

Bailey explained that she always budgets conservatively, and in doing so, the city has more than a $300,000 surplus. The city opted not to increase the property tax this year, even deciding against taking the compensating rate - and that impacted the surplus by $100,000, which is where Bailey believes Peace misunderstood.

But Commissioner Sarah Frietch also disagreed with handing out the gift certificates, which add up to about a cost of $675 for the city.

"While I absolutely value every employee, I believe that we have quite a benefit package," Frietch said. "Six-hundred of seven-hundred dollars here and there can add up through the year."

Bailey told the commission that not all the people who received the coupons redeemed them. They are traditionally given to around 45 people, and that included the mayor and commissioners.  

Usually, Bailey said, the mayor and commissioners do not redeem their coupons.

"We are 100 percent debt free, and we want to keep it that way," said Commissioner Mark Kreimborg. "To me, $15 is not going to break the city. I think it would do more harm than good. It is for morale."

"We have a lot of streets to repair that we don't know how we are going to pay for," said Peace.

When asked for his opinion, Commissioner Dan Murray reluctantly weighed in.

"I don't want to divide the commission," he said. Murray argued that the city offers benefits to its employees in lieu of higher salaries that it can't afford. "I know our city is a training city. We are a stepping stone, and if we can retain employees through benefits, it puts us right back in the picture. It doesn't matter one way or the other. It is for morale.  

"But I don't want us to be at each other's throats. I can go either way."

Kreimborg did not like that response.

"Get off the fence," he told Murray.

Mayor Bell said that $15 was not a big deal. He said he had worked for a big company, and he would get something every year around Christmas. He agreed with Kreimborg that it is a morale issue.

Kreimborg finally made a motion to give the coupons to the employees, and only the employees, and not the commissioners or mayor.   

Mayor Bell seconded the motion and asked for a roll call vote to see where everyone stood.

Frietch again explained that she valued every employee, but that she had to vote no. Peace also voted no.

With the clarification of employees-only, Murray voted yes along with Kreimborg and Bell. 

The Christmas gift cards survive for another year.

It was also noted that while the city hosted a potluck meal for employees at Thanksgiving, the Christmas party was canceled this year to save money. Bailey said she would report on actual costs of the coupons in February.

Other notes:

The city commission asked Bailey to draft a text amendment to the city zoning code related to short-term rentals like AirBnb. The city would ban all rentals under twentiy-eight days long. The issue will likely be considered by planning & zoning in February.

January 21 to 27 was proclaimed to be School Choice Week in the city.

The city honored Hazel and Jeff King, owners of Pets Plus, which is closing this month after twenty-three years.

Another resolution recognized Terry Foster's 60th birthday. Foster is known as "Mr. ER" and is a registered professional nurse. He is frequently on the TV show Untold Stories of the ER, and has lived in Taylor Mill all sixty years of his life. His daughter Meredith asked if the city to recognize Foster.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor