By Conrad Dudderar
Some elected city leaders want a non-profit foundation to reimburse the City of Yukon for personnel costs and other expenses related to Yukon’s popular Christmas lights tour.
The Yukon City Council, at its June 1st meeting, approved the City of Yukon’s FY21-22 budget by a 4-1 vote.
The dissenting vote was cast by At-Large City Council Member Jeff Wootton, who had asked about overtime expenses incurred for Christmas in the Park.
The annual city budget includes $83,000 for employee overtime, City Manager Tammy Kretchmar said.
Donations collected during Christmas in the Park go to the Yukon Community Support Foundation.
“Are we (City of Yukon) recouping any of our costs at all?” Wootton asked.
Not in this budget, Kretchmar replied.
Christmas in the Park is the City of Yukon’s annual six-week holiday lights spectacular at the Yukon City Park complex.
Ward 4 City Council Member Aric Gilliland asked whether city officials had discussed with the Yukon Community Support Foundation having the foundation reimburse the City of Yukon for those labor expenses.
Gilliland said the City of Yukon is contributing time and manpower for Christmas in the Park while revenue from the event is “going to a third party.”
Mayor Shelli Selby, who recently became a member of the foundation’s board, said the foundation pays for all the new displays and lights.
“That is given to the city at the end of Christmas,” Selby noted.
Gilliland replied, “I think it’s a great relationship. I just think there’s some concern about the expense and maybe sacrifice on the part of the city.”
Yukon’s mayor suggested the city council and foundation representatives discuss the matter at a future council study session.
“I think it is a conversation that we need to have,” Selby said.
Yukon city officials promote Christmas in the Park as Oklahoma’s premier Christmas light tour, featuring about 5 million lights and 425 displays.
WOOTTEN EXPLAINS ‘NO’ VOTE
After the meeting, Wootton said he voted “no” on the new city budget because he believes using public money and services is not the best practice when the funds and services go to a third party.
“I understand that the Yukon Community Support Foundation is set up to help with cultural events within Yukon,” he said. “However, I feel it is best for the city to be reimbursed for the funds that it spends, especially since all the donations go to the support foundation instead of back to the city.”
Included in the City of Yukon’s FY21-22 budget for Christmas in the Park are these items the city will pay for – but not be reimbursed by the foundation:
$83,000 in personnel overtime for set-up and take-down of the park, $10,000 for electricity, $17,000 for traffic control, $15,000 for tents, and $6,000 for booth rentals.
“In total, the city will be spending $130,000 of taxpayers’ money but then all donations will go into the Yukon Community Support Foundation and their budget is not controlled by the city council,” Wootton said.
“I would have supported this budget if the city would not be spending taxpayers’ money on an event that the donations go somewhere else.”
Before council members voted June 1 on the new city budget, both Wootton and Gilliland asked about an employee “hiring freeze” that had been discussed during a recent budget hearing.
“That has been lifted,” Kretchmar explained. “We no longer have the hiring freeze. We are advertising for those positions that we have in the budget and that need to be replaced.”
Many of the advertised openings are for “summer help”, she noted.
‘KEEP OUR TAX DOLLARS IN YUKON’
As Yukon readies for a new budget year, city officials continue to closely track sales tax revenues – which fuel local government operations.
The City of Yukon’s sales tax disbursement in May (based on March business) was 28.9% higher than the same month in 2020.
“Remember, last year at this time we were in the middle of COVID,” Mayor Selby said recently. “Our town was partially closed down. So, we are doing better now compared to last year. But we have to keep our revenue going.”
The mayor reiterated her call for Yukon residents to spend money at businesses inside Yukon city limits.
“Last year was lean with COVID and this year – with Oklahoma City surrounding us, especially on the south and east – there are concerns this too will be a lean year,” Selby said.
“We have to keep out tax dollars in Yukon. … A lot of our future is weighing on what new economic development we can bring to the City of Yukon.”