Calhoun County employees will receive one-time bonuses for working during the coronavirus pandemic.
A one-time bonus of $1,000 will be given to full-time employees and a $500 bonus will be given to part-time employees who worked for the county from March 19, 2020 through June 30, 2021.
The bonus will go to 127 full-time and 55 part-time employees, County Administrator John McLauchlin said.
A total of $154,500 will be distributed. The funds are coming from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden.
Employees who were not working for the county during the period and former employees who left the county will not receive the bonus.
The bonus will not go to elected officials.
Council unanimously approved the bonuses, but not without some discussion first.
Councilman John Nelson believed the bonuses should be given to front-line first responders. Councilman Ken Westbury believed the bonuses should be given to all employees.
Nelson, who works as a first responder, supported the package “because I do think it is important that we reward our folks for doing the right thing.”
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Speaking on behalf of front-line workers and first responders, Nelson said, “during COVID, we showed up and we did our job every time, every day and we did not get a chance to take off.”
“We are basically giving everybody a trophy,” Nelson continued. “That is fine – we will do that. From the way I approach it, I think we should have done something special for folks who showed up full time, to include the collection workers.”
“I just would have done it a different way,” he said.
Westbury said his daughter works for the Department of Social Services and she was sent home to work. He said she was home for about year, but due to working from home, her traditional office hours were extended.
“I don't think these people were given time off when they were told to work from home,” Westbury said.
Westbury said his daughter-in-law, who works for Aflac, also said that more was expected from her when she worked from home than in the office.
“She missed out on any social interaction with her fellow employees and she hated going home,” he said. “It is not like everybody had a picnic.”
Nelson noted the military has “hazardous duty pay.”
“Those who went forward and did the hazardous duty the whole time, they got paid for it and those who didn't, didn't get paid for it,” Nelson said. “We just are going to disagree on that Ken.”
“I am just expressing my opinion and why I am going to vote the way I vote,” Westbury said.
“We are going to vote the same way,” Nelson said. “But we are going to have a different rationales on why we vote.”
Council Vice Chairman James Haigler said due to nature of the matter, he wanted the vote to be done when the entire council was present. Council Chairman David Summers was not present.
“When we spend $100,000 something dollars, I would like for everybody to be involved in it,” Haigler said.
Haigler said 16 other counties and municipalities in the state have used federal money to help employees either through monetary bonuses or new equipment.
Some Calhoun County residents who attended the meeting were not happy with the decision.
County resident Amy Hill expressed concerns the COVID money could have been used to help individuals who were without work due to COVID pay their property taxes.
“The taxpayers did not get any bonuses,” she said. “I would rather emergency services or hazard pay get a bonus than somebody who worked from home or staggered their schedules.”
County resident and Calhoun County Republican Party Vice Chair Rick Nightingale said, “Right now we are under the highest rate of inflation we have seen in this country in 40 years and it has everything to do with the COVID relief that was something like five or six trillion dollars, trillions of which has not even been spent yet and now we are just running around willy-nilly, in this county specifically, handing out bonuses to people.”
“All those things make everything that we buy, that we consume to survive on a daily basis ... more expensive,” Nightingale said. “How about we either invest in the future so that we have to spend less later or raise taxes less later? Then we have invested in our communities and our futures rather than just handing it out.”
Nightingale said if the county wants to spend money, then it should spend it on front-line workers or first responders who were put in harm's way and had less flexibility.
Last month, a split council decided not to transfer federal COVID relief funds only to the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office.
At the time, Westbury said he voted against the funding because he felt all county employees should receive bonuses and not just the sheriff's office.