Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,” a quote by Martin Luther King Jr., is how Macon County Manager Derek Roland began his proposal to commissioners Tuesday night asking for consideration to provide county employees with a one-time hazard pay bonus for working through the Covid-19 Pandemic.
“We always talk about the employees in this organization and how they are great at providing essential services to the folks of Macon County,” said Roland. “During all this time, it has never been more truthful and has never became more evident to me personally than it has during the past eight months as Macon County, our state, and nation have continued to deal with the Covid-19 Pandemic. As Macon County manager, I can assure you that there is no department in this organization that has been spared from the challenges and the challenging times that have been brought about by Covid-19.”
Roland asked commissioners to consider providing all full-time employees with Macon County with a $750 bonus and part time employees with $150 bonus, to show their appreciation for working during the pandemic. The criteria to determine the holiday bonuses provided by the county is the same criteria used to determine eligibility for the hazard pay bonus.
Roland informed commissioners that it would cost less than $400,000 to provide all eligible employees with the bonus, but the funds to do it would come at no added expense to county tax payers.
“We would be able to provide the bonuses to employees with a net zero impact on the county’s budget,” said Roland.
Roland explained to commissioners that not only have county employees remained working during the pandemic, they have seen a significant increase in services.
Referencing a sample of county departments, Roland said that the county permitting department collected $236,000 receipts for recorded deeds and plats in the Register of Deeds office, a record number of building permits being issued through the inspections department, a record number of meals served daily through the senior service center and more homebound meal deliveries than ever. The Board of Elections conducted a record turnout presidential election; the IT department has had to learn new software overnight; finance has had to mitigate unprecedented budget challenges and funding changes on the state and federal level; transit has continued operating and providing transportation to the county’s most vulnerable population, all while taking on substantial personal risk to continue operations.
Commissioner Ronnie Beale, who made the motion to grant employees the bonus without hesitation, noted that Macon County is one of the few governments in the state that did not close down and halt operations during the pandemic. Roland agreed and said that some county governments across the state have yet to continue essential services that Macon County never stopped providing.
“I’ve never been more proud to be a part of this organization and I’ve never been more proud of the employees in this organization who have chosen to stand in as leaders during the most challenging time that this county, state, or nation has ever faced,” said Roland.
Commissioner Paul Higdon cast the sole opposing vote to the hazard pay, stating that when county employees are hired, they are hired to work in good times and in bad and they shouldn’t get a bonus for simply doing the jobs they were hired to do.
“We hire you to perform in good times and bad times,” said Higdon. “I work with people in the private sector and I’m not here to represent the Board of Elections, or the Sheriff’s Office, or the Board of Health. I appreciate those boards and those committees and respect them fighting to get more money, but the private sector employees don’t have the same hazard pay and benefits so county employees shouldn’t.”
Higdon also argued that private sector employees weren’t given paid leave if they had to quarantine when being exposed to Covid-19 like public employees were. However, Federal Cares Act provided funding for employees, both private and public, to quarantine if exposed to COVID19, which came at no cost to private employees. In fact, the Federal Cares Act funding specifically exempted public health employees and first responders from being able to have paid leave to quarantine as they were deemed as essential employees.
Despite saying he appreciated the work county employees perform, he voted against providing them with hazard pay.
The Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to award all eligible county employees with the bonus.