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'Hammond Bucks' support local businesses

On Dec. 18 Erin McComb and Don Fowell pose with a replica "Hammond Buck.." Village employees will receive $100 in "Hammond Bucks" as a holiday gift this year.

On Dec. 13 the village board voted to reward village employees with a holiday gift that will also help support Hammond businesses.

In an effort to become more effective and more efficient, Village Trustee Erin McComb said, "We leveraged our committees to bring vetted ideas and recommendations and made a commitment to getting educated so we could reach decisions faster."

McComb said the effort paid off, and the money the committee did not use for trustee meetings was used to fund this year's holiday gift.

Each of the 16 village employees will be given $100 in "Hammond Bucks" as a holiday gift this year.

McComb said the "Hammond Bucks" idea came to her after she and library director Michelle Johnson "stumbled upon 'Project 3/50' last year, which is a program to encourage consumers to spend $50 at three locally owned businesses, versus larger chains."

According to McComb, the premise behind the project is that 68 cents of every dollar spent locally stays local through payroll, expenditures and taxes -- "and encourages us to invest our dollars in our own communities and people when we can," she said.

McComb said she brought the project to the Village of Hammond and they voted to support the project whenever possible.

"When it came time to consider holiday gifts, I thought it was a natural fit. Rewarding our employees and investing in our local economy -- a true win-win," McComb said.

McComb mentioned the idea to Central St. Croix Chamber of Commerce President Elect Don Fowell and said he was "pretty enthusiastic about the idea."

Fowell brought the proposal to the Dec. 6 finance and personnel meeting, which was given a positive recommendation and sent on to the Dec. 13 full board meeting for a vote.

At the Dec. 13 meeting the board approved the $100 in "bucks" gift to the village employees. Steve Peterson, Eric Arthur and Wally Graf voted "nay" to the $100 holiday gift.

McComb said Peterson abstained due to conflict of interest, his wife is a village employee. McComb said Graf "voted nay because he would have preferred a lower denomination," but she said he "wholeheartedly supported the idea."

McComb appreciates Fowell's help in working to plan and implement

"Hammond Bucks."

"That's the great thing about Don, he's not just an idea guy -- he's a 'get out there and do it guy,' too."

So why did the board decide to reward its employees with "Hammond Bucks" as opposed to gift cards or a holiday ham?

"The most obvious advantage is that we are simultaneously able to reward our employees and invest in the wonderful local businesses that make Hammond a great place to live," McComb said.

Participating businesses in the "bucks" program include local restaurants, photography studios, salons and mechanic shops. The name of all participating locations will be printed on the back of each "buck."

Fowell said every business he approached about the program wanted to participate. "They were ecstatic about the idea," he said.

To ensure authenticity, each "buck" will be stamped with the village clerk's notary stamp. All "bucks" will need to be used before Jan. 1, 2012 and can only be used at supporting businesses. Business owners will get reimbursed for "bucks" used at their location by going to the village treasurer.

"If it's used in it's entirety (the 'bucks') will add $1,600 to the local economy," Fowell said.

McComb thinks the "bucks" project has created a fresh start in conversatiosn with local businesses.

"Making Hammond a place that thrives is a three legged stool -- residents, business and government. We need all three to be working together to make Hammond a great place to be, so programs like this are one of many ways to engage all the 'legs,''' McComb said.

At recent meetings a few village employees were not as enthusiastic about the "bucks" as McComb was.

"Some of the staff, upon hearing of the proposal, expressed concerns about the limited options and that sometimes it's difficult to patronize local businesses without feeling like they are 'still on the clock,'" McComb said.

While McComb said she understood the employees concerns, she said "I think we all (both trustees and employees) have to recognize it's the nature of the work we do."

McComb suggested, "Instead of avoiding these issues and possibly creating more scrutiny, I think we should embrace our roles in our communities and find opportunities to foster relationships with businesses and their patrons in a more constructive way."

McComb hopes the "Hammond Bucks" project proves to be a success.

"Depending on the popularity of the program, there is some discussion with the businesses to make this a permanent program that anyone can use.

"And that makes me really excited, to hear that an idea of mine could possibly grow into a program that offers a tangible benefit to Hammond," McComb said.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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