Let's say you are a hard-working Carroll couple with two kids. You struggle to make the bills, save a little for the toys your boys have been pining for since Thanksgiving. Maybe you skipped a vacation this year. Four hundred and one dollars doesn't just fall out of the Christmas tree like so much stray tinsel.

And that's what you pay for a membership to the Carroll Recreation Center. All things considered, $401 is a good deal. Some would even say it's a steal.

But guess who gets even better treatment from their city council?

A single mother with three kids. She pays $353 for a family membership at the Rec Center - 12 percent less than the mom-and-pop led family.

President Barack Obama once spoke at the Rec Center as a candidate for the Oval Office. Was preferential treatment for single parents his idea? Obama was, after all, raised by a single mom. Did Obama drop the single-parent idea in the Rec Center suggestion box for Parks and Recreation director Jack Wardell?

Not hardly. Obama actually fits in the upper category, as he leads not only the nation, but a traditional two-parent family.

The single-parent discount - what I call a divorce bonus - is championed by two alleged conservatives in our city government: Carroll Mayor Adam Schweers and Councilwoman Carolyn Siemann.

Schweers included it in the compromise rate plan. Maybe he forgot his own family values rhetoric from that state Senate campaign last summer.

And, remarkably, Siemann doesn't think the blue-light special for the unwed or never-wed moms goes far enough.

"Maybe if we could do something a little bit better for the single parents," Siemann said during one recent council debate.

She suggested a single-parent break of 20 percent or more at the Rec Center.

"I would like to see that be a little more generous," Siemann said.

The comments marked an interesting departure for Siemann who generally positions herself as something of an intellectual libertarian. At one council meeting she even expressed grave concerns about accepting federal law-enforcement grants because she worried certain civil-rights language involved with the arrangement may allow the fed to long-arm the Farner Government Building - a prospect other policy-makers in the chambers saw as akin to chasing ghosts.

The instincts behind the single-parent rate are understandable. The Rec wants to draw more members, and there's an anecdotal assessment that single parents may have to reach more to make the payments. So cut them a break.

This is liberal thinking indeed. Real Lyndon Johnson, Great Society stuff.

There's another way to view this - one more fitting with the culture of Carroll and the conservative philosophy one would expect Schweers and Siemann to advocate, if they are true to the terms they affix to themselves.

Don't create policies rewarding behavior detrimental to society.

Single parents aren't bad people. I was raised by one. It can work out terrifically for some families.

But there's truth to that famous 1993 Atlantic magazine cover story - "Dan Quayle was right."

"Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong," the GOP vice president said in a highly controversial 1992 campaign speech. "Failing to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this. It doesn't help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice."

The Atlantic stacked up research to show just how many problems are associated with missing and deadbeat dads, single moms going it alone. (Yes, there are single dads, too, but we know this role in generally filled by women.)

Locally, let's look at the numbers.

The number of families in Carroll County headed by a single parent jumped 28.6 percent in the first decade of the century. In 2010, 25.6 percent of families in the county were led by one parent, up from 19.9 percent in 2000, according to report from Iowa Kids Count. In 2011, 34.6 percent of the kids in public schools in Carroll County were eligible for free-and-reduced lunches, according to that same report. That's up from 25.5 percent in 2000.

It's no wild leap to suggest a correlation. Just based on math and common sense, a child is more likely to succeed with a mother and father.

Does this mean we scarlet-letter the divorced, the unwed? Of course not.

But what sense does it make to put into place public policy that diminishes the struggle of the single mom, makes the choice more viable, if but in a small way? Shouldn't it be hard to be a single mom?

This rate discount is not the Carroll way.

In promoting Carroll, either in speech or print, words and phrases we generally use are "strong family values" and "church-going" and "faith-oriented" and "traditional."

Of course, I suppose we could just write off the single-parent rate as charity or pity.

But why stop with the single mom since we're going full-tilt Salvation Army at City Hall. Let's increase the discount for a family that has a had a parent die. I feel a lot worse about that than a divorce. Don't you?

What about the disabled? Let's cut their rates even more. If you are in a wheelchair your rate is cut 40 percent. The blind? Welcome in, sir, to our Rec Center at a 35 percent break.

We want to reduce obesity so maybe we can give a 12 percent break at the Rec to scale-busting Carroll residents with fully blossomed guts who can fill out a XXXL shirt.

If you can win a hot-dog-eating contest perhaps you just get in free. You'd no doubt make up for it at the soda and candy machines.

How anyone on the Carroll City Council can claim to be a "conservative" after passing this rate plan is utterly laughable.