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Village asks for gifts back

February 21, 2013
Morning Journal News

SALINEVILLE - At Tuesday evening's meeting of the village council, council members determined they will have to ask village employees to repay them for a gift card given to them as a holiday bonus because of the village's failure to deduct taxes from the amount given on the gift cards.

At the Dec. 17 village council meeting, the council requested that Fiscal Officer Esther Anderson purchase $50 Walmart Gift cards for village employees as "bonuses for 2012" according to the minutes from the meeting. Some four police officers, the police chief, the street commissioner and two clerks were given gift cards at a cost of $350.

Council and Mayor Mary Smith are now concerned because no withholding taxes were collected on the gift cards as per state law.

Anderson reported to council that she sought advice from village solicitor Andy Beech who advised her the best way to handle the situation was to ask each employee who received a gift card to pay the village $50, deduct the withholding tax and reimburse each for the $50 minus the withholding tax.

Council speculated that $5 to $6 in taxes would be deducted from the $50. For future instances in which the village wishes to give gifts to employees Beech advised the council to write checks withholding the proper amount in taxes. "We had good intentions, but it was a bad idea," said Councilman Rick Beadle.

Beadle and councilmen Tom Hays offered to pay off the amount owed in tax withholdings for each employee given a gift card.

Smith contended that they could not legally do so, however, solicitor Beech advised that it would be legal if they did so as a personal donation. Beech was not a part of the executive session in which council members decided to issue the gift cards and was not consulted about the matter and was not aware of the gift.

Smith was not present at the Dec. 17 meeting or the executive session in which council decided to give out the gift cards. She has stated before Tuesday night's meeting that the executive session was held illegally because the Ohio Revised Code section 121.22 does not list gifts for employees as one of the appropriate reasons for holding an executive session.

Smith said there is a strong chance the village will be audited by the state because of the gift cards.

Beadle contended that since the village has taken action to repay the money owed in tax withholdings the audit should not be too detrimental.

A citizen who spoke during the public portion of the meeting but did not give her name put it best, "If you're an employee of this village don't ever accept a gift card from anybody."



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