OCEAN CITY – Ocean City employees are slated to receive a $1,000 bonus in July, but the Mayor and Council had some initial differences of opinion to work through before making that decision.
Last Friday during a budget session, Councilman Joe Hall unexpectedly proposed to give municipal employees a $500 bonus on July 1.
“Clearly, what the staff has been able to do in being responsible and bringing forward a responsible budget, I would like to suggest that we give a $500 cost-of-living bonus in this year’s budget across the board for our full-time, vested employees,” Joe Hall said at that time. “I think this would show appreciation from the council and property owners of the town that they have heard our message and have stepped up to the plate over the last couple years and kept our services maintained and our town fun, clean and safe.”
Joe Hall reminded his colleagues his proposal would amount to an approximately $250,000 line item in the budget and although his proposal received approval by a few members, it met resistance by others thinking that the employees deserved more.
Councilmembers Mary Knight and Lloyd Martin asked for the matter to be discussed further at budget wrap-up, which was scheduled for Thursday morning, and their request was granted along with an informal consensus to include a bonus of some sort in the next fiscal year’s budget with the dollar amount to be decided.
The budget wrap-up was suddenly held on Wednesday morning at which time the council voted unanimously to approve a $1,000 raise for full-time town employees.
At first, Councilman Brent Ashley set a motion to give employees a $500 bonus but after some discussion it was voted down in a 3-4 vote, with Joe Hall, Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas in favor.
Knight pointed out that by the time taxes would be deducted a $500 bonus would be more like a $375 bonus and suggested a $1,000 bonus that would come to $700 or more after taxes.
“That could pay a month of gas and electric, or a credit card bill, it would really make a difference,” Knight said on Thursday. “After four years of no raises and departments being cut, and the amount of work our employees have been doing, this is what they deserve.”
With a little over 500 full-time employees, the total in bonuses would come to about $500,000 and Knight ensured taxpayers that their taxes would not be raised because of it.
“It is coming out of the fund balance,” she said. “It is like our savings account … I just wanted the public to know that it is not affecting their tax rate.”
On Thursday, Joe Hall said he supported the employee bonus increase but pointed out it will increase the budget line item that was originally proposed.
“That is a discussion for the taxpayers and we are going to have to explain on the street why their assessments are going down and why a half of a million dollars more in employee costs is justified,” he said. “My point is without them, part of our team, we don’t get to manage our town in such a sufficient manner, and I think you reward a good job done…we are not out of the woods yet with the economy but we are getting there and you’re helping us and thank you.”
Prior to Wednesday’s decision, the budget work session last Friday got a little heated when Joe Hall initially pitched the bonus concept.
Councilman Doug Cymek was quick to point out this gesture will be perceived by the general employees as a way to avert the current petition, which seeks to put before Ocean City voters the question of whether employees can organize and form a union. He questioned the timing of the pitch in the middle of the budget process and voiced his opposition to the dollar amount.
“I think you are on the right track, but I totally disagree with the amount,” Cymek said. “I think this is going to be taken to the employees as a drop in the bucket to stall us and turn us around. I would ask you to keep this thought in mind. Let’s get through the budget, move through the summer, which I think is going to be a great one for Ocean City, and revisit it right after the summer. Quite candidly, I was thinking significantly more than that.”
Cymek later called the proposal a “slap in the employees’ face”.
Despite the reservations, Joe Hall then motioned to add it to the budget and it was seconded by Ashley, who said it’s the motivation from the council that deserves the focus rather than the dollar amount.
“It’s the intent, not the amount. I certainly don’t think it’s a slap in the face to give somebody $500. The intent is to reward the employees in my mind,” Ashley said.
Councilman Lloyd Martin found the talk of a bonus last Friday to be premature, asking for the discussion to be tabled till the budget work session.
“We have not gone through the entire budget yet. I believe we can find more than $500 for the employees right now to tell you the truth,” Martin said. “Let’s not put a number to it and discuss it at wrap-up. Let’s get a consensus and wait till the wrap-up session. I want to help the employees. They are helping us.”
The council then decided it would be best to table the matter until this week’s budget wrap-up sessions, which were planned for Thursday and Friday, but held on Wednesday instead with no official notification to the press.
The first reading of the budget is planned for May 7.