ROGERS -- City employees will receive Christmas bonuses despite the covid-19 pandemic's effect on revenue.
Each employee will receive a $300 bonus, the same as they have received each year since 2016, costing the city a total of about $201,000.
The council ultimately voted unanimously to allow the bonuses after Mayor Greg Hines assured council members the city can afford to do so without dipping into its reserve, or savings.
"I'm in favor of doing some kind of recognition for our employees, but quite honestly, $300 a piece and that being a $200,000 hit to our budget in the middle of covid makes me a little uncomfortable," council member Betsy Reithemeyer said at the beginning of the finance committee's discussion before the full council meeting.
Likewise, council member Marge Wolf said she was unsure and suggested possibly giving $200 bonuses instead.
Council member Mandy Brashear suggested the council take into account that some employees, such as firefighters or police officers, may have been at more personal risk during the pandemic.
Hines said he could not advocate for differentiating between employees based on covid-19 risk, considering the Christmas bonuses are annual rewards to all employees for their work unrelated to the virus.
"I think it's reasonable discussion, but I do worry about pitting employees against each other," said Clay Kendall, council member.
The council also voted unanimously to accept a $10,000 donation from state Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R-Rogers) to the Fire Department to purchase a "baby box" from Safe Haven Baby Boxes Inc. The money is from Bledsoe's reelection surplus funds, according to city documents.
Fire Chief Tom Jenkins explained parents unable to care for their newborn babies may leave them safely in the box that will be installed outside Fire Station 5 on South Pinnacle Hills Parkway. Firefighters inside the station will be alerted if someone opens the box.
The Arkansas Safe Haven law allows parents to bring babies 30 days or younger to an employee at any hospital emergency room, law enforcement agency, fire department that is staffed 24 hours a day or a designated baby box location anonymously and without facing prosecution for endangering or abandoning a child, according to the Arkansas Department of Human Services.
Rogers has had one such occurrence, said John Pesek, staff attorney.
The box will be the second baby box in Arkansas, Jenkins said. The other is in Benton, according to the Department of Human Services.
Fire Station 5 is about a mile away from Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas, making it easy for paramedics to take a newborn to the hospital, Jenkins said.
"This is a unique gift, and I would like to thank Sen. Bledsoe for it," Reithemeyer said.
The council conducted its meeting via Zoom, a video conferencing service, in light of the covid-19 pandemic.
The Rogers City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved:
• An order of removal of a structure at 1602 S. First Street.
• A contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield for employee health insurance for 2021. Insurance premiums are not going up for employees, said Thomas Dunlap, director of human resources.
• Accepting the final plat Of Cadence Place subdivision, phase 2.
• A request by Kenneth Sanders to rezone 1.6 acres at West Perry Road west of Sam Davis Road from agricultural to the residential single family zoning district, which allows homes to be built there.
• A request by the Warren family to rezone about 4.3 acres at the southwest corner of Pinnacle Hills Parkway and West Pleasant Grove Road from agricultural to the neighborhood commercial zoning district, which allows commercial development to be built there.
• A request by Bespoke Builders Inc. to rezone about 4 acres at 2720 Dixieland Road from agricultural to the neighborhood residential zoning district.
Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette
Alex Golden may be reached by email at [email protected]