PRINCESS ANNE — Princess Anne’s 24 municipal employees on the job during the coronavirus pandemic may be getting a year-end bonus for their service based on their regular hours worked over the last three months.
Town Commissioners are debating how much "COVID pay" to add on top of regular wages over the last three months — with $5 per hour the amount leading by consensus following a lengthy discussion at their November work session.
Premium pandemic pay is allowed under the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and the town was earmarked $1.875 million. If approved some amount ($8 and $10 per hour were also discussed) would be paid for every regular hour worked. The program would be revisited in the future to see if a similar bonus would be applicable.
Three months premium pay at $5 per hour would reduce the town’s ARP allotment by nearly $61,000 while it would be reduced by more than $97,000 if it was $8, according to Finance Administrator Brandie Bozman.
As an alternative, the pay sweetener could be tacked on to every regular hour worked and paid during non-payday weeks. Commissioner Joey Gardner suggested the amount be $8 per hour with a check cut for the previous three months, then add the extra pay every two weeks for the next three months.
President Lionel Frederick said six months at $8 per hour was "too frivolous." While he favored the bonuses, "it has to be fair," adding, "We need to reach a common consensus on a better number than that," saying there are other needs that ARP funding can address.
Commissioner Orlondo Taylor said "COVID pay" is what this is called where he works at the Detention Center and it’s around $5 per hour. Vice President Garland Hayward also favored $5 per hour for the last three months and that it be placed on the agenda again for more discussion, an opinion shared by Commissioner Marshall Corbin.
"But don’t take too long to look at the next three months," Mr. Taylor said.
Ms. Bozman said all employees that would benefit from this have been on the job for the last three months, and Mr. Frederick said commissioners are not eligible for pandemic pay.
In addition to COVID pay, the commissioners can use federal ARP funding to cover salaries of "staff rehires" or positions vacated and filled since the onset of the pandemic. That would include the town manager, finance administrator, public works director and administrative assistant and with benefits included would move off the town’s regular budget over $340,000 in one year or some $682,000 over two years.
There is also a supervisory position in public works that Ms. Bozman said might qualify but she needs to look into that further. She said by using ARP funds for these already budgeted positions local revenue not spent on salaries would be set aside to grow the fund balance or be used for capital purchases that would otherwise be financed, saving on interest expense.
While there was an apparent consensus to move forward with this plan, Vice President Hayward said, "After two years, our budget would have to take that on," and Commissioner Gardner said, "We need to make sure we’re prepared for that."
Additional suggestions to apply ARP funding included a $10,000 fund to help non-profits provide COVID-19, flu or other vaccination programs; $10,000 for a rental assistance program; and $3,000 to support local food distribution efforts.
There was also $40,000 recommended by Town Manager Clayton Anderson for two murals, one at Price Cutters and the other at Junior’s Wine, to benefit economic development by attracting tourists.
He said UMES is proposing a mural of its own on Hawks’ Corner.
For infrastructure, $50,000 was recommended to cover the shortfall on a sidewalk and drainage project on Beckford Avenue. The state has provided $72,000 for the project but the lowest bid was $119,000 and the state will not provide additional funding or more time to get started, Mr. Anderson said.
He also requested $5,000 be used to study stormwater management at Beckford Manor. Mr. Anderson said the town is responsible for the engineering but the homeowners’ association is responsible for the repairs.
Commissioners previously approved using ARP funds to provide $500 tax credits for all homeowners at least 70 years of age and older living in their single-family home, and $180,000 for a new garbage truck.
They also approved $50,000 for the Princess Anne Volunteer Fire Company and $50,000 for the Garland Hayward Youth Center, and $33,900 for fencing and security around the public works building.
At the request of the finance administrator, ARP funds will be segregated into a dedicated account and not co-mingled with other town funds. Half has already been received with the second half due next year with all funds having to be obligated by the end of 2024.