ELLIJAY, Ga. – Struggling through the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, many employees working for Gilmer County have tested positive over the last two years and all have seen major risks of exposure during that time, according to the Gilmer Board of Commissioners (BOC). This is why, the board stated, they wanted to look at a type of hazard pay for employees.
During their second Special Called Meeting of September, Gilmer’s BOC solely focused on expenditures utilizing funding from the American Recover Plan. The county has delayed this topic as they have further investigated, and still are looking at, rulings over the “relief funding” and what it can and cannot be used for. The board has spent time looking at other counties as well and how they have spent the funding.
However, during the discussion one major topic enveloped the large majority of the day, passing on these funds in a “bonus” or “hazard pay” for employees who have seen exposures and risks during the time. While it is being treated as a bonus, Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris said in the meeting that it is, basically, hazard pay for employees who have worked hard through the risks, exposures, and positive cases that the county has seen. He also said part of the consideration is to help out the employees who he feels are not paid as much as they should be.
This payment was debated in several areas including the amount of pay, differences for full or part timers, inclusion of elected officials, and inclusion of seasonal employees. Along with guidance from Gilmer’s Public Safety Director Keith Kucera and the County Attorney David Clark, and with input from other department heads and elected officials including Public Safety Director Jim Smith, Sheriff Stacy Nicholson, Fire Chief Daniel Kauffman, Finance Director Sandi Holden, and Probate Judge Scott Chastain, the board navigated how to implement the payment.
Originally considered as a flat $3,000 for full-time employees and $1,500 for part-time employees, the question came whether the county should offer a larger payment for Public Safety employees. Both Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson stated their initial considerations to offer more for public safety, but later Paris’ initial proposal came as a flat rate for all employees, to which Ferguson also agreed with a vote in support. However, they were not the only ones as both Kucera and Nicholson also made comments and supported an equal payment for all employees due to the risks that all faced.
Nicholson did originally comment that he was in full support of the idea for employees. He later commented saying that $3,000 is good but “$4,000 is better.” He went on to clarify that he felt that the idea was great and he, personally, felt that the employees deserved more than the original proposal, stating both $4,000 and $5,000 as better options. Nicholson did also state that he said this understanding that he is not a Commissioner who is considering all the other needs and how to pay for everything.
The county ultimately settled on the original proposal of $3,000 for full-time and $1,500 for part-time for the moment. But then discussion turned to other aspects of who should be included as “employees” considering the different aspects of the county including seasonal workers and even elected officials.
Inclusions for elected officials was originally left out as Paris stated he thought it was restricted in the resolutions for the funding. Kucera pointed out that it was allowed as he referenced rulings and opinions from others like the National Association of Counties. However, despite this, all three members of the Board of Commissioners agreed that they should exempt themselves from the payment as they are the ones voting on and implementing the bonus. The payment will include all other elected officials, though.
The largest topic came when officials and department heads began asking about employee inclusion. Sheriff Nicholson noted bailiffs who are paid by the day instead of by the hour. Judge Chastain also noted seasonal employees being poll workers. Though at one time they were handled as individual contractors and paid through the Probate Office, Chastain moved poll workers’ pay to be handled generally with all other employees. A point noted by County Attorney David Clark when he said, “The keyword here is ’employees.'”
The delineation being that employees are handled through Human Resources and pay goes through the normal channels with taxes withheld and everything as normal.
Both Chastain and Nicholson questioned who is and isn’t included saying that they expected these questions from their employees and wanted to get the answer before the questions were asked.
Though these two were present to ask, the discussion turned to other “employees” including those paid to serve on boards like the Board of Tax Assessors.
However, the board themselves did not make a final decision on each of these different inclusions. Instead, operating under the inclusions of “employees” as defined, the board left the details to their Chief Financial Officer Sandi Holden.
What the board directed Holden to do and what the final motion of the board directed, is that full-time employees will receive $3,000. Part-time employees will receive up to $1,500, this pay will be dependent on their hours in some way. The board also set the cut-off and no new employees after the September 28, 2021 meeting can be included in the payment. They also noted that employees who have been employed for less than 90-days at the time would not receive the payment until they reached the 90-day mark.
Holden was given the task at the meeting, so no scale is available at this time, but indications point to part-time employees getting the full $1,500 if they are hired as such and typically work the normal schedule up to 29 hours a week.
Holden said that she will likely use some sort of percentage for those who don’t “qualify” to that weekly and hourly schedule, but again, no specific details on how that will work are available.
As the county works through the details and fully implements the scale and plan for the “hazard pay,” they did set a date for employees to expect the payment. Employees can expect this bonus to come in the third week of October.