County uses portion of federal aid to issue $1.5M in essential worker bonusesby J.D. Bailey on 10/05/21
With over $4.5 million in federal relief aid scheduled to be issued to Columbia County by next spring, the Columbia County Quorum Court on Monday voted unanimously to issue a set of “premium pay” bonuses for all current government employees who were staffed during the first 14 months of the coronavirus pandemic.
The total amount of the payments will be just over $1.5 million, according to the local appropriation ordinance, and will be retroactively applied to employees for the hours worked from March 3, 2020, through May 31, 2021. To be eligible for the bonus payments, which will be tabulated as overtime/premium pay, current county workers must have been continuously employed through the dates listed.
Since county employees have been deemed essential workers, they were eligible for the extra wages.
“The Quorum Court of Columbia County recognizes the need to provide resilience to our local government by providing premium pay to eligible workers retroactively to March 3, 2020,” the appropriation ordinance states.
The measure was effective Monday evening upon the passage of the ordinance. The retroactive wage increase set by the bonuses is not permanent, according to the county measure, and only applies to the stated period.
The bonuses will be funded at no cost to the county. The grant monies used in the one-time pay increase were gained as part of the federal government's 2021 American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress in March. The $1.9 trillion aid bill included some $350 billion in direct cash infusions into city, county, and state governments across the U.S. to help offset any financial impacts and shortfalls of the coronavirus pandemic. The federal dollar amounts issued to each county were based on population and other economic factors, including HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program formula that examines the poverty levels of a community.
The amount for each local essential worker pandemic payment will vary among county workers, with employee pay scale and hours worked as the two determining factors, according to Monday’s measure.
The bonus payment structure breaks down as follows:
- Workers who made $14 per hour, the county government's minimum wage, will receive the largest bonus amounts with an additional $5.25 added per hour worked during the designated time period.
- Workers who made $14.01 to $18 per hour will receive an added $4.25 per hour worked during the designated time period.
- Workers who made over $18.01 per hour will receive an added $3.25 per hour worked during the designated time period.
- County Equalization Board members will receive a lump-sum payment of $100
- Quorum Court members will receive an additional $400, or 140% of their monthly per diem, for each meeting they attended from Jan. 1, 2021, through May 31, 2021.
- The County Coroner will receive $5,816, or 140% of his hourly contract rate, from March 3, 2020, through May 31, 2021.
- The County Attorney will receive $4,900, or 140% of her hourly contract rate from March 3, 2020, through May 31, 2020.
Although discretionary spending of these federal dollars is largely left up to the local governments, the U.S. Treasury set certain guidelines and parameters on the aid package in March. According to the Government Finance Officers Association, a group that since 1906 has advised private-sector financial and accounting professionals, eligible uses for the federal relief funds include: revenue replacement for government shortfalls; COVID-19 expenditures or negative economic impact assistance to small businesses, households, hard-hit industries, and economic recovery; premium pay for essential workers; and investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
Federal guidelines also state that all American Rescue Plan Act monies must be used by the end of 2024.
In May, the Quorum Court established the Columbia County Rescue Plan Fund as the deadline for the first half of federal funds neared. The remaining half of virus aid must be sent to counties by May 10, 2022, according to the U.S. Treasury.
The breakdown of Monday’s premium pay measure, which totals $1,509,288, is as follows:
(Note: All amounts include the totals for all the entire eligible workforce in each department or budgeted entity, plus FICA and APERS allotments)
• County Judge’s office: $7,992
• County Clerk’s office: $65,379
• Circuit Clerk’s office: $61,632
• County Treasurer’s office: $25,050
• County Collector’s office: $52,648
• County Assessor’s office: $67,936
• Equalization Board: $538
• Quorum Court: $20,270
• County Buildings: $21,348
• Scanning: $3,939
• County Attorney: $4,900
• Sheriff’s Office: $219,609
• County Coroner: $6,261
• Office of Emergency Management (OEM): $3,291
• Veteran’s Services: $7,347
• Rural Development Authority (RDA): $27,176
• Road Department: $369,292
• Recorder Cost Fund: $13,597
• County Library: $84,718
• Solid Waste Department: $146,893
• County Jail: $222,318
• County 9-1-1 Service: $69,798
• Public Defender’s office: $7,347
With the premium pay bonuses set to be issued, the county government will still be left with over $3 million in expected aid that it must spend in the coming few years on infrastructure, essential worker pay, local economic aid, or revenue replacement.
As of Monday, there have been no public announcements on how or when the county plans to use the remaining federal funds, once they arrive.
On Monday, roughly 25 county employees were present in the Columbia County Courthouse in Magnolia to witness the passage of the $1.5 million appropriation ordinance. Once the voting was official, Columbia County Judge Denny Foster stated:
“I do thank y’all, and the county employees thank y’all, too.”
Following the statement, JP Jenny Marie Whitehead acknowledged the county workers in attendance and began a round of applause in their honor.
After the Quorum Court meeting adjourned, Columbia County Circuit Clerk Angela Keith issued a brief statement showing her gratitude for the retroactive wage increase.
“I just want to say, from the elected officials and the staff to the Quorum Court, thank you very much,” the county official said.
In other Columbia County Quorum Court News:
- A funding measure was passed to replace two air conditioning units at the Columbia County Detention Center. In total, $16,353 was transferred from within county insurance budgets and into a machinery and equipment fund to pay for the project.
- A resolution was passed designating Southwest Arkansas Planning and Development District, Inc. as the grant administrator for an Arkansas Community and Economic Development Grant. If the grant is approved, the funds will be used to replace the roof of the Columbia County Library.
- The county’s funded it's portion of a joint rescue truck purchase with the City of Magnolia. In total, $88,862 of public safety aid grant funds were spent on the project -- which represented roughly half of the cost of the new emergency vehicle. The truck, which is staffed 24 hours per day by the Magnolia Fire Department, is used in automobile extractions and accidents.
- Darrell Chatelain was re-appointed to the Columbia County Rural Development Authority for another five-year term. The RDA is the governing board, made up of five commissioners, that oversees the maintenance and administration of Lake Columbia.