The Greene County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve bonuses for all employees at its November meeting.
The General Assembly voted in August to instruct the Virginia Compensation Board to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal funds for one-time $3,000 bonuses to full-time and $1,500 bonuses for part-time state-funded police and jail positions as part of premium pay due to COVID-19; these bonuses were to be given out in November. However, not all employees in Greene County are state-funded so the question before the supervisors was whether to fund bonuses across the board or only approve the funding for those state-funded positions.
The pass-through funds for the state-funded positions totaled $51,572. The cost for all the qualified employees is $406,917.
“All of Gov. (Ralph) Northam’s executive orders reinforced the points … local government services are essential and local government workers are essential,” said Mark Taylor, county administrator. “All of them provide services that contribute to the health, safety and welfare of the community.”
Taylor said some of the deputies in Greene are state-funded but others are not. And the General Assembly only funded certain state-funded positions within the sheriff’s office—dispatch workers were not designated to receive the bonus.
“There is a fundamental inequity of treatment among workers locally coming out of the state’s action,” Taylor said. “The question for the public hearing tonight is how we might handle that inequity. One recommendation before you is the consideration of ARPA-funded bonuses for local employees.”
He said the county is permitted to use funds for premium pay for those individuals who have direct contact with the public—which Taylor said all employees do.
There are 138 full-time county-funded workers and at least 27 have had COVID-19, he said. Recently, Rick Morris, the director of vehicle maintenance, passed away from the virus. The Emergency Medical Service has had an outbreak recently and the sheriff’s office has had outbreaks throughout. An outbreak is defined as at least two COVID-19 cases in one setting. Additionally, Taylor noted that none of the county employees have been permitted (or able) to work from home.
“For folks who have been able to work from home or who have otherwise qualified for supplemental benefits that the federal government and state government have made available … I’m not sure those folks will ever really appreciate the stress that our workforce team has been subjected to simply by the continuity of service; to continue to perform in the face of the stress of the pandemic,” Taylor said. “Yes, it’s a sad thing to be out of work; it’s also a safe thing to be out of work—or to work, to be home, to have things delivered by Walmart, to be able to go pick up a meal. Our workforce has had to continue in place, notwithstanding the risk.”
Taylor said he knows it’s a lot of money, but he felt it was his duty to put before the board a recommendation to use ARPA funds for premium pay bonuses for all qualified employees so that those in locally funded positions would be on equal footing with their peers in state-funded positions.
Two people spoke against the bonuses.
Mike Kilpatrick said he can’t believe the county is discussing this with the state of the current economy.
“I can’t believe the state is doing this to us; I think it’s completely irresponsible and the worst thing that we could do at this point is double down,” Kilpatrick said. “I’ve read some of you are saying it would damage the morale between the state-funded employees and the local employees—and I totally get that—but if you step back and look at the broader picture, the real damage is between the public sector and the private sector with things like that.”
Kilpatrick said he wasn’t aware of anyone in the public sector that lost their jobs throughout the pandemic.
“To reward employees that have never really been in danger of losing their jobs is just an irresponsible use of taxpayer funds,” he said. “Whether that money comes from the federal level or the state level or the local level, it’s all the same.”
Paige Roberts said the money could be better spent on the county’s infrastructure needs, such as the water supply.
“We have three years to make a decision (on using the funds),” Roberts said. “I frankly think that our time and energy and money is better spent ensuring that the county actually is safe at this point in time more than anything else and that’s why I think you should oppose this resolution.”
Chairman Bill Martin, Stanardsville, said to him it’s a matter of equity.
“Whether it’s a sheriff’s deputy or a Greene County employee, they both performed during the pandemic,” he said.
Midway Supervisor Marie Durrer said the county employees stepped up to the plate during the pandemic so she supported the resolution.
The decision to support the resolution didn’t come easily to Monroe Supervisor Steve Bowman, he said.
“I’ve struggled with this a great deal because it’s a lot of money,” he said. “And there are a lot of other things to do. But our team has worked long and hard over the last year and eight months, so I will support this.”