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Fight Over Turkey, Ham Gift Certificates Returns to Taylor Mill

There is a tradition at the City of Taylor Mill to provide gift certificates for turkeys and hams to city employees for the holidays.

And for the past two years, there has been a newer tradition: fighting among city leaders over the gifts.

The $15 gift certificates, paid for by city funds, were the topic of a contentious debate for the second straight year.

City Commissioner Phil Peace said that he was against the gift certificates, but offered an alternative.

"I am absolutely against using taxpayer money for this," said Peace. "I do think it is a gift and it is important. A gift is always easy to give when it is taxpayer money. I think if you want to give a gift it should come from you. So I will vote for the gift certificates if the commission agrees to pay for the certificates out of our own pockets. You should not ask the residents to pay for a gift certificate for the employees of the city."

Commissioner Mark Kreimborg countered, saying the city has a $5 million budget, and he doesn't have a problem spending funds to show appreciation for city employees.

Mayor Dan Bell said that with 40 employees, the cost to the city would be about $600.

The city administrator has roughly $2,500 in a discretionary account, which could be used for the gift certificates without approval from the city commission.

Following last year's fight over the issue, which resulted in a 3-2 vote in favor of the certificates with Peace and Sarah Frietch opposing, Mayor Bell said that he received a lot of feedback from residents.

He said most people supported the extra benefit for employees.

"The overall feedback from the public was terrible," Bell said. "They didn't like that we even had the discussion. Mr. Foster on Robertson Road got so irate about our not doing it that he went to Kroger and provided certificates for us. And Mr. Foster made it clear to me when he provided it that he thought it was absolutely ludicrous."

Commissioner Frietch said she was also approached by many people on the flip side, who thanked her profusely for saving them money, saying they could use that money to feed their children.

"I don't believe it. I don't believe it," said Commissioner Kreimborg, shaking his head.

Frietch said she would support Peace's proposal.

Commissioner Dan Murray voiced his support for the gift certificates.

"The point is, we have cut back and cut back, and there comes a time when you have to show some appreciation," Murray said. He added that he would be OK with putting up his own money to help cover the cost.

Resident Ray Mauer asked the city commission about other benefits that employees receive. Peace responded that the city pays 100 percent of the annual $300,000 health care costs.

"What message does this send to the city employees?," Mauer asked, referencing the debate over gift certificates.

Resident Rose Merritt spoke in favor of the gift certificates.

"I know I greatly appreciate the police department we have," she said. "I greatly appreciate when I leave for work at 5 o'clock in the morning that on my side street the snow is removed. I greatly appreciate that when I call the paramedics they are coming. I understand what Phil (Peace) is saying, that we shouldn't use taxpayer dollars, but there is something to be said for tradition. And there is also something to be said for, We appreciate our employees. Now, you're saying not to use taxpayer dollars, well you're using taxpayer dollars to pay for their health insurance. And their salaries. I just don't think it is that ludicrous. And I think it is almost a slap in their face. It is a matter of honor, and I'm a resident. I think a lot of residents feel like me. We appreciate the service. It is a question of  respecting them. Fifteen dollars probably won't even buy a ham. It's a token. It 's what we've done. It's what Taylor Mill does."

"You take the total residents of this city, and you divide it into that amount of money, and what do you come up with?," Mauer asked. "Fifty cents?"

"You guys already sent the message to the employees," said Police Chief Steve Knauf. "So you just might as well do it."

On the advice of City Attorney Frank Wichmann, the vote had to be whether to spend city funds to buy the certificates, because they couldn't vote on collecting personal money for a cause. The vote was held and the motion passed, with Frietch and Peace against, and Bell, Murray, and Kreimborg voting in favor.

The discussion came on the heels of a conversation about the tax rate. For the last two years the city's tax rate has remained stable at $0.439 per $100 of assessed value.   

Mayor Bell opened the discussion, saying the way he saw it, the city could go one of two ways: keeping the rate the same, or adopting the compensating rate, which would give the city the same amount of money as last year. The compensating rate comes from the property valuation in the city and Taylor Mill, like other cities, receives its numbers from the Northern Kentucky Area Development District.

Bell and Murray both said they could go with either.  

Frietch said she thought the residents were paying too much in taxes as it is, and that she thought the city should be cutting back anyway and was not in favor of accepting compensating rate.

Peace said that there was no reason to raise the rate since the budget continues to have a giant hole in it. But he said there are new homes coming on board, and the forthcoming United Dairy Farmers business, that is planned for property that Peace owns, would bring in $8 million. He added that if the city had two more years of good faith cutting, the budget would be good. He wanted to keep the rate the same.

Kreimborg said that the city had to keep its lights on just like everybody else, and the property worth $8 million could very well lower the tax rate.

When the vote was taken, all the commissioners voted to keep the tax rate the same, at $0.439 per $100. The personal property tax was $0.75 per $100.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor