Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday voted to give free passes to the community gym and pool to employees of non-profit child care providers.
Assembly member Jeff Meucci said it was one suggestion that came out of community meetings on child care and could help retain workers in local programs.
“If this is a small token that we could do to maybe make that job a little bit more palatable up there,” Meucci said. “I mean it’s a passion up there, it has to be. Several of us have been up there and it’s, you really got to want to do this. A gym pass is a very little thing to help them, thank them for the work they’re doing up there.”
Local providers have requested help from the borough’s share of money from the American Rescue Plant Act, mainly to cover losses during closures because of COVID outbreaks last year. The borough last month held a work session on that money but has not yet spent any of it on child care. So far it’s only gone toward finishing a covered deck at Mountain View Manor.
Meucci estimated there were around 14 employees who would be able to use free passes at the community center. The borough allows free use of the gym and pool for its employees but not their dependents. It also has agreements for discounted use for other employers and organizations.
Others on the assembly didn’t think this was the best approach. Jeigh Stanton Gregor said it was hard to single out one sector of the economy for this benefit.
“I could make a very compelling argument that grocery store cashiers should have a free gym pass,” Stanton Gregor said. “I can go down the line, I think. As an assembly and as the borough did a really solid thing last year by making it free for all children in town. I thought it was wonderful. I like that because it was across, everybody 18 and under, you’re in, which helps our most vulnerable population in town to give them access. In all fairness the punch cards right now are extremely reasonably priced for anyone in the town. So I’m going to be voting no but not because I don’t want to help child care on this. I just think we can do better and I don’t like the arbitrary nature of this one.”
Stanton Gregor voted no along with Bob Lynn and mayor Mark Jensen but it had the votes to pass 4-3 before a full assembly Monday.
Assembly members also had a brief discussion about scheduling a work session on child care sometime next month.
Assembly member Lynn thought it was a much bigger discussion.
“What is the role of the borough in child care and if we’re going to fund it, how are you going to go about that?” Lynn asked. “And if you’re going to do that are you going to look at the manor and how we’re going to fund that? Are you going to look, there’s a much, much broader question here that needs to be addressed, rather than these little particular items. And are you going to take part of your sales tax and put it towards that? Are you going to increase your sales tax because that’s exactly where we’re going, in my mind. Because you keep nickel and diming it and you don’t have enough money to go around.”
Assembly member Jeff Meucci wants to discuss several other steps the borough could take to help parents and providers. Those include flexible spending accounts for borough employees to set aside earnings before taxes to go toward child care. There could also be reimbursement for utility payments by providers, or employee discounts on utility bills. Meucci is hoping to schedule a work session in late March on those topics.