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MJ Commission nixes workers' gift cards

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By TOMI L. WILEYSpecial to The Wilson Post

MT. JULIET -- To the dismay of Mt. Juliet City employees, and despite the fact that the City is comfortable in its “extremely conservative budget,” it has increasing sales tax revenue, the City Commission this year voted itself health insurance, personal laptops and a salary increase last year, Mt. Juliet city commissioners voted down an ordinance that would provide $75 gift cards for its employees at Monday night’s special called meeting.

“I don’t want to be a Grinch here, but some of my constituents, and I’m sure yours, have lost their jobs or are taking pay cuts,” District 3 Commissioner Ed Hagerty explained. “It’s not fair to ask them to pay extra tax dollars for city employee bonuses. And (city employees) just got a 1 percent raise for cost of living even though the numbers show the cost of living went down. It doesn’t seem fair or to send the right message.”

Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam “seconds that emotion.”

“I can’t justify people who are out of work paying for bonuses,” she said.

District 4 Commissioner Jim Bradshaw agreed.

“We’ve borrowed $10 million and we’re trying to figure out what to do with the $2.5 million we have left.”

District 1 Commissioner Ted Floyd, however, said he has “a certain amount of dedication” as a former City employee (he is a former Mt. Juliet Police chief).

“It’s $75 a piece,” he said, “and it has already been appropriated in the budget.”

District 2 Commissioner Will Sellers kicked in his 2 cents, saying that, as the original sponsor of the ordinance, he doesn’t think “$75 will break the bank or send the wrong message.”

The total amount of the gift cards for all City employees would have cost $9,525, an amount already allotted in the budget. Earlier this year city commissioners voted to give themselves insurance and laptops to use to conduct a “paperless” meeting, last year they doubled their own salaries, and earlier Elam attempted to give herself lifetime health care. During the same meeting Monday night, commissioners approved by a 4-1 vote, with Sellers voting against, to spend $25,000 on fireworks for the annual Fourth of July celebration.

What commissioners didn’t discuss is that the gift cards were all commissioned for local Mom and Pop stores and were upgraded for free by Mt. Juliet Economic Development Director Kenny Martin and Human Resources Manager Jill Johnson. For example: at Houston’s Market, a gift card purchased for $10 would actually get the recipient $15 worth of merchandise. The sales tax dollars spent by using the gift cards would have gone right back into the local economy – and Mt. Juliet citizens wouldn’t be paying “extra” tax dollars (since Mt. Juliet doesn’t have a property tax) because the funds have already been appropriated.

The ordinance failed by a 2-3 vote, with Floyd and Sellers voting for it, on second reading.

As mentioned above, there are some $2.5 million in borrowed funds the City still has to decide how to use, and a special meeting was called for January to revisit the issue. During commissioner comments, Sellers noted that WEMA (Wilson Emergency Management Agency) needs more firefighters for Station 3, located behind City Hall on North Mt. Juliet Road.

He noted that a house on Pleasant Grove Road recently caught fire, and there were just two Mt. Juliet volunteer firemen, two regular firefighters from the station and one other who showed up for the fire. Metro responders were called in to help, but then one of the firefighters was hurt, which left only three people to battle the blaze. He suggested that the commission look to “helping WEMA out” in 2010 by adding extra personnel per shift to the local fire station.

On the actual five-item agenda, commissioners voted 4-1 on second reading for a fee schedule for the Building Department, with Bradshaw voting against. Commissioners unanimously approved a substituted version of an ordinance to rezone Rowlett d/b/a Hackney Farms on first reading.

The next Mt. Juliet City Commission meeting will be held on Monday, Dec. 14, beginning at 6:30 p.m., with a workshop to be held beginning at 5 p.m. in the chambers of City Hall.

Editor’s Note: Tomi L. Wiley is the editor of The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet. She may be contacted at Editor@thechronicleofmtjuliet.com.

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