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Prince Edward Board delays vote on bonuses for employees

The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors voted 7-0 Tuesday, Dec. 8, to cancel and reschedule the Tuesday public hearing about a proposed ordinance by which the board could provide for payment of a one-time bonus to county employees and officers.

The board vote moved the public hearing to Wednesday, Dec. 23, at 9 a.m. to allow for advertisement of its intention to consider the possibility of increasing the planned bonuses beyond the originally announced $500 for each full-time county employee and officers and $250 for each part-time employee.

The new possibility that will be considered Dec. 23 is giving a bonus of $1,000 to each full-time county employee and $500 to each part-time county employee, drawing funds from the county’s unallocated CARES Act money to help make some of the increase possible.

Farmville 101 District Supervisor Beverly Booth abstained from voting after previously announcing during the conflict of interest disclosures that she would do so since her husband is a full-time employee of the Prince Edward County Sheriff’s Office.

A memo from Assistant Sarah Elam Puckett in the board meeting packet relevant to the originally planned public hearing noted that Gov. Ralph Northam has approved the legislation for the payment of one-time $500 bonuses to each Compensation Board-funded sworn officer and the sheriff. The county will receive $11,303.25 from the Comp Board for 21 sheriff’s office positions.

Puckett also stated that the Prince Edward County Department of Social Services and Piedmont Court Services have funding in their budgets to pay the cost of the bonus for their employees.

Lastly, she noted that the cost for the balance of the county employees, constitutional officer employees and the elected officials is $47,635.12. This covers the cost of both the bonus and the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, which is a U.S. federal payroll tax.

Before Tuesday’s public hearing could begin, though, County Administrator Doug Stanley indicated the county had received a request that day from Prince Edward County Sheriff L.A. “Tony” Epps relative to consideration of hazard pay. Epps was present at the board meeting.

“We’ve noticed a number of jurisdictions around us that have looked at using some of their CARES Act funding, which is an allowable expense, to fund a hazardous pay supplement — it’s not called a bonus, it’s called a supplement — for people in hazardous positions,” Stanley said. “And we had a conversation in the CARES Act Committee about the potential for that, and I know we talked to you, Mr. Chairman (Jerry Townsend), earlier today, so staff has been trying to look at that issue.”

Epps was later given some time to speak on the issue on behalf of his deputies.

“Campbell County gave their deputies $3,000 apiece,” he said. “Bedford County gave $2,700, and $1,500 all around us. So my office has been very busy. I was misled about this money in the beginning.

“The first thing that (former County Administrator) Mr. (Wade) Bartlett told me when this money became available was, ‘Do no ask for it for any kind of bonuses or anything like that.’ So we didn’t. And we were awarded a pretty good amount of this money for equipment.”

But he emphasized that this money was not a Christmas present.

“That equipment belongs to the county,” he said. “It’s going to be used to keep us safe and keep people safe and to probably generate funds for the county. I know some people are going to look at it like, ‘We gave y’all all this money for equipment,’ but that’s not putting any food on our tables.

“And listen, my people work. They couldn’t shut down and go home. A lot of officers in the courthouse did, but we can’t do that. We have to be there on the front line, and we were. And I can understand it’s just difficult, I understand that, but if there’s any way that we could get (the hazardous pay supplement) done, we would surely appreciate it.”

Stanley said he certainly believed the merit of recognizing the county staff members who serve in hazardous positions.

“But even there, we would have some in the sheriff’s office that would qualify for the hazardous duty and some that wouldn’t,” he said. “So we talked about the issue of equity and equity from the standpoint of all county employees and also employees within the sheriff’s office.”

This is when he introduced the idea he and county officials had of the increased bonuses, using a combination of the Comp Board funding the county is receiving for some of the sheriff’s office staff, the remaining unallocated CARES Act funding and the county’s own funds.

“There would be some positions where I’m sure that the entire $1,000 would have to come from county coffers,” Stanley said.

He explained that there were two main difficulties facing the county in making the increased bonuses happen.

“One, we’ve got to deal with CARES Act funding in December and make those commitments now,” he said. “Two, that if we decide yes, we want to look at the $1,000 bonus, we’re going to have to have another public hearing, because we can’t have a public hearing on a $500 bonus and approve $1,000. You can go down, but you can’t go up.”

Farmville 801 District Supervisor Pattie Cooper-Jones, chair of the county’s CARES Act Committee, shared what the committee was recommending to the board.

“We talked about it up into $1,000 for every full-time employee and $500 for part-time employees, but we can’t have a public hearing tonight,” she said. “We meet Dec. 23, so it’s going to be actually January before you could receive a check, but the CARES Act Committee recommended that we recommend it to the board at this time.”