OCEAN CITY — An unexpected proposal to give municipal employees a one-time $500 bonus on July 1 was met with resistance last Friday, but the Ocean City Mayor and Council did resolve to discuss at the end of this week giving city workers some sort of monetary perk.
During Friday’s budget session, Councilman Joe Hall interjected a proposal he had discussed with Council President Jim Hall the previous night.
“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. “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 a nd our town fun, clean and safe. At this time, I think this is something we could do …”
Jim Hall expressed his support, saying, “It’s not a lot of money, but I thought this was a fair bonus. I wish it was more money, and I talked about this with Joe when he called me last night. It’s fair with this climate. It’s not a lot of money, but … it’s something to say thank you, you’ve done a good job. I would really hope we can see it in our budget to get this done and give it out on July 1. … this will say to our employees thank you.”
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 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.”
Jim Hall acknowledged he wished it could be more and admitted later he was thinking $1,000 per employee.
“At least, I’d like to get something passed and tell the employees you are going to get this on the certain day and not the end of the year,” Jim Hall said. “The council makeup may change in October … today, we can promise this is what you are going to get and when you are going to get it.”
Cymek called the proposal a “slap in the employees’ face” and asked that taxpayers contact him to voice their opinion on the bonus amount.
“I’m going to vote against this. We’ve spent five minutes talking about this. It was sprung us, you two have talked about this. We have not talked through it. This is the wrong way to do this,” Cymek said. “Let’s get to the end of the budget and see where we are, but I’m not going along with $500. I agree with rewarding the employees, but it’s the amount of money you are offering.”
Jim Hall disagreed that it was a “slap” as did Joe Hall and Councilman Brent Ashley. Joe Hall reminded his colleagues his proposal would amount to an approximately $250,000 line item in the budget.
“I’m asking that it be added to the budget now,” said Joe Hall. “I don’t want to talk about budget cuts to accommodate it. My position is we take it out of the fund balance … it will be there for them in July.”
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 not the amount, it’s the intent. 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.
Councilwoman Mary Knight took the proposal as another indication that “I am so out of the loop.” She thought the discussion was premature, considering the budget sessions are ongoing. More budget sessions are planned for April 17 and 18 with budget wrap-up sessions April 19 and 20. The first reading of the budget is planned for May 7.
“In my mind, I have been thinking, of course, about an employee bonus. I agree that $500 is not enough,” Knight said. “Intent won’t buy me gasoline. … I agree the employees need a bonus. I think $500 is way too low … I’m looking at much more. I’m tired of just shooting and not thinking about the repercussions … Let’s look at this and do something right for the employees and not make it a political issue.”
Councilman Lloyd Martin sided with Cymek and Knight and requested the council consider this at the budget wrap-up sessions scheduled for the end of the week.
“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.”
After some further discussion, the council decided to move the employee bonus topic to the budget wrap-up sessions. No official votes were taken on the matter at last Friday’s budget session, but an informal consensus was to include a bonus of some sort in the next fiscal year’s budget with the dollar amount to be decided.