The Cole County Commission has expanded who will be paid premium pay to include part-time employees who are potentially at a higher risk of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus while on the job.
By a 2-1 vote, the County Commission agreed to make part-time county workers who are considered at high risk of potentially becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus while on the job eligible for additional pay.
The commission recently agreed it wanted to use some of the county's federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds for COVID-19 relief to provide premium pay for essential workers. On Dec. 21, they approved using $1.5 million in ARP funds for premium pay with two premium levels for full-time workers -- $200 per two-week pay period and $100 per two-week pay period.
At their meeting Tuesday, commissioners approved two premium levels for part-time workers -- $40 per two-week pay period and $20 per two-week pay period, depending upon their level of exposure to the public. The policy requires part-time staff have to work a minimum of eight hours a week before they can be considered eligible.
Presiding Commissioner Sam Bushman and Western District Commissioner Harry Otto voted in favor while Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher voted against. Hoelscher said he wanted the part-time staff to be able to get some of these funds but didn't like that it would be just a flat amount. He was wanting to make one tier up to $2.50 an hour and another up to $1.25 an hour.
"This is saying you only get $40 if you work 16 hours in a pay period or if you worked 80 hours in a pay period," Hoelscher said.
"Was part of the logic behind this to simplify the payroll process?" Otto asked Sheila Johnson, Cole County human resources manager.
"Yes, because if it's a lump sum per pay period it takes half the time to determine who qualifies," Johnson replied. "It was for ease of calculation on top of payroll."
Otto said for the ease of administration of the policy he backed the proposal, as did Bushman.
"It's not that hard to figure out who needs to get what amount," Hoelscher said. "We have computers that do that stuff."
"You don't talk to the computer and say, 'Do it for me,'" Otto said. "You have to punch it in and work it up."
"No one is being punished," Otto added.
"Yes they are," Holescher said.
"Some employees are being rewarded more than others," Otto said. "We're not taking anything away from anybody. We're only adding different amounts to different people."
Department heads are eligible for the funds, but not elected officials. The difference in the pay level would be determined by what type of exposure the employee has in his or her interaction with the public.
Under the policy adopted, people working from home are not eligible for the premium pay because they are not being exposed to the virus at work. County officials said the premium pay program was intended to enhance pay of those who have work-related exposure.
The first of the premium pay would appear on employees' Feb. 3 paycheck. The pay increase is not retroactive, county officials said, because the state Constitution does not allow it.
Initially, the commission was going to limit the pay to full-time workers, but officials such as Sheriff John Wheeler and Cole County EMS Chief Eric Hoy said part-time employees should be able to get some of the money.
Hoy said they have 13 part-time staff and 63 full-time. Wheeler said out of 115 authorized positions, he has 11 part-time staff.
"Something is better than nothing so thank you," Wheeler told the commission. "I can't do without my part-timers."
On a related matter, commissioners chose nine people to serve on an advisory panel to guide them on how to use COVID-19 relief funds. They had planned on seven members but found a couple of other residents they wanted to be on the panel.
Commission staff will contact the individuals to see if they would still be willing to serve as they were chosen from a group of 15 people who applied on the county's website or who had been nominated for consideration. Once those individuals are contacted and it's known if they will serve, the group will be announced, and they'll have their first meeting sometime after the first of the year.
The ARP funds can be used to decrease the spread of COVID-19; replace lost revenue; support economic stabilization for households and businesses; and address public health and economic challenges that "have contributed to the unequal impact of the pandemic."
The funds could also be used for investing in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, which is something the commission has been considering. The commissioners have also discussed using the funds to address stormwater infrastructure issues.
The county has until Dec. 31, 2024, to obligate the funds to specific purposes and to spend the funds by Dec. 31, 2026.