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Forum Editorial: Giving $1,000 bonuses to all full-time Fargo city employees isn’t proper

If Fargo city leaders are interested in how best to spend the federal funds, perhaps they should invite public input. Our guess is that bonuses for city workers, as much as they're appreciated, wouldn’t have topped the list.

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There’s no denying that the pandemic has been trying for many workers. We’ve been through a wearying gauntlet of shutdowns, work modifications and extra demands from this evolving public health crisis.

Many workers, public and private, have risen to meet unprecedented challenges. For many, the mere act of showing up for work has put them at risk of getting infected by the coronavirus. But they’ve done their jobs with dedication.

The Fargo City Commission has decided to reward city employees with a generous bonus — $1,000 for about 900 full-time employees, $750 for 17 employees working 30 hours a week and $500 for 39 part-time employees working 20 hours per week.

The cost of this blanket act of generosity will cost almost $1 million. The public money is from federal pandemic relief funding that the city received.

The bonuses aren’t based on merit or achievement or anything else. They are simply being awarded to all city workers.

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Undoubtedly, many city taxpayers would have liked something extra in their Christmas stocking. Many of them have also performed admirably in the face of a difficult pandemic. But they work for private employers who can’t afford to dole out bonuses.

City Commissioner Tony Gehrig was the lone dissenter. Although appreciating city workers’ contributions, Gehrig said the almost $1 million gift was "no small amount of money outside of the budget cycle."

No small amount of money indeed, whether inside or outside the budget cycle.

Instead of dishing out $1,000 bonuses, Gehrig said, the city could show its appreciation with another day off.

"I don't think it's a prudent use,” he said. “I don't think there's an employer out there that would just spend a million dollars. Unrestricted (city) spending just keeps going."

The city received about $15.9 million in the first round of federal COVID-19 relief funds, and about $5 million of that remains unspent. That figure doesn’t include additional federal assistance.

If city leaders are interested in how best to spend the federal funds, perhaps they should invite public input. Our guess is that bonuses for city workers, as much as their service is appreciated, wouldn’t have topped the list.

Some might have suggested giving back some of the money to taxpayers, if that were allowed. Or using the money to reduce special assessments.

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Since the pandemic is still raging, some might suggest using some of that federal money to pay for COVID-19 home testing kits and KN95 face masks. How about free transit service bus rides? How about investing some of that money in a parking ramp at Hector International Airport?

The point is, the relief funds should be targeted toward investments that benefit the city as a whole, not to allow elected city officials to play the role of Santa Claus by giving out a blanket bonus to city employees.

Editorials represent the views of Forum management and the Editorial Board.

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