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Macon approves hazard pay for county employees

At the recommendation of County Manager Derek Roland, Macon County commissioners recently approved hazard pay for its 300-plus employees. 

All full-time employees hired before or on Oct. 26, 2019 will receive $750 while active part-time employees will receive $150. The hazard pay bonuses will cost the county roughly $350,000 — $328,037 will be allocated from the county’s General Fund fund balance and $22,000 will be allocated from the solid waste fund balance. 

“This will have a net zero impact on our current fiscal budget and a net zero impact on the 2021 fiscal budget,” Roland told commissioners. 

Roland prefaced his request to the board by explaining how county employees have gone above and beyond to provide services and keep departments open to the public during the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

“I always talk about the employees of this organization and how they’re our greatest asset and that’s never been more evident to me than during the last eight months,” he said. “We’re in the middle of one of the greatest challenges this country’s ever faced and as county manager I assure you no department has been spared from the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Roland said every department — especially those on the front lines of the pandemic, including the sheriff’s office, health department and emergency management — have led a “first class mitigation effort” to ensure the county was confronting the pandemic in a way that will eventually allow the county to make a full recovery. 

“This has required them to risk their own personal health and safety and that of their families,” he said. “They continue to place the health and safety of residents above themselves. I challenge anyone to find another rural community in this state that’s run a more thorough effort than they have.”

Roland said department heads did a great job having enough foresight to order enough supplies and materials needed before they became unavailable during the height of the pandemic. Maintenance workers have spent extra time making sure work areas are sanitized, even when an employee using the workspace had tested positive for the virus. 

They also installed Plexiglass covers in department offices to keep them open to the public for services. 

The senior services center restructured its entire meal system from an inside congregating system to a drive through setting so seniors could continue to receive meals. The demand for the drive-thru meals has been greater than the normal demand — Roland said the senior center is serving 200 percent more meals than it did this time last year. 

Transit services has also helped deliver meals to those in need in addition to meeting the demand for public transportation during a pandemic. 

“The pandemic hasn’t caused people to stop going to work or the doctor,” Roland said. 

The IT department has worked diligently to keep the county safe from increased risk of cyberattacks as well as keeping 60 remote learning stations functioning. 

The finance and human resources department has had to implement and track new programs related to COVID-19 and CARES Act reimbursements and the Board of Elections successfully navigated the 2020 Presidential Election despite all the challenges. 

Roland said he’s told department heads that once the county had some financial certainty amid all the uncertainty that the pandemic has brought, he would present an equitable recommendation to the board. With the county recouping some COVID-related costs through the CARES Act to cover regular payroll costs of $364,735, Roland said he felt comfortable using the $350,000 from fund balances to cover the one-time hazard pay. 

Commission Chairman Jim Tate said as a leader, there’s nothing he’d rather spend the money on that the employees who’ve worked to keep the county government running. 

Commissioner Ronnie Beale said Macon was one of the few counties in the state that was able to keep all its departments open during the pandemic.

While he agreed that county employees have gone above and beyond to get the job done, Commissioner Paul Higdon said that’s what they’re hired to do. While public employees have still had job security during the pandemic and an additional 80 hours of emergency paid leave if they need to be out of work to quarantine, those working in the private sector haven’t had those luxuries.

“When we hire employees, we hire them to work during good and bad times,” he said. “No one in the private sector has enjoyed the benefits that’s been afforded to the public sector.”

Commissioner Karl Gillespie said his only concern was that the hazard pay be fair across the board for all employees — even part-time workers who are at great risk of being exposed during their shifts. 

The board approved the hazard pay recommendation 4 to 1 with Higdon opposed. 

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