Christmas is a time for giving, and last year, the city of McCall threw its employees a $5,490 dollar Christmas party at taxpayer expense, according to records obtained by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
City records indicate the party – referred to by city officials as a "Holiday party" – was held at the McCall Golf Club, and included $2,783 for dinner, and $2,707 for gifts and gift certificates.
The party included a prime rib dinner for the 99 city employees and their guests. The city also gave out $25 gift cards to Ridley’s. City Manager Lindley Kirkpatrick said the city used to give employees a turkey or ham, but have since decided it’s easier to just give gift cards. He stressed that most of the money spent on the party stayed in McCall.
Kirkpatrick told us the Golf Club is where the party has always been held. "That’s where we’ve had it historically. There aren’t that many places in town that can handle a party of 100 people or so."
Former city council member Bonnie Bertram begs to differ.
"That’s not true. They don’t ask anyone else," said Bertram, owner of the Pancake House. "They didn’t ask me, they didn’t ask the Mill (Supper Club), which can handle 100 people." She said her restaurant could easily accommodate that size crowd, and provide a prime rib dinner with beverage and dessert for $25 per person. That’s slightly less than the $28 per person the city paid at the McCall Golf Club, but still in the neighborhood.
Melinda Nielsen, owner of Si Buenos and the Southside Grill, said the price paid by the city is not outrageous; that the parties her establishment caters and hosts can easily run $30-50 per person. "For a holiday party of 100 people, that’s not out of line. For that kind of occasion, you’re not talking tostados, you’re talking prime rib and shrimp dishes."
But the bigger question is why the government of McCall is spending so much for a party in the first place, during a recession that’s hurting the tourism industry McCall depends on. Kirkpatrick said the party is a tradition.
"It’s one way the city and the council recognizes city employee contributions. A lot of times being a city employee is a thankless job, and this is a way for the city to say thank you," Kirkpatrick said.
Again, Bertram disagrees with that rationale. She says city employees are getting a great deal from taxpayers already.
"The fact is that they have a full-time job, winter and summer, that is not dependent on the weather, like the rest of us have to live with. They have paid vacation and paid sick leave that most of the business people in this town cannot offer to their employees. They’re working hard, but they’re not working harder than we are. The fact is many businesses are asking their employees to take a pay cut. When people are losing their jobs and losing their homes, they don’t have sympathy for the city employees," Bertram said.
The party came at a time when the city raised property taxes, notes real estate agent Rob Lyons, who led a failed attempt to change McCall’s form of government from a city manager system to a mayor-city council system. "They raise our taxes, a 3% increase this year. When everybody else is cutting back, they’re giving increases."
Kirkpatrick says plans have not yet been made for this year’s city "Holiday" party.