Wicomico Council Passes Premium Pay Proposal In 4-3 Vote

SALISBURY – A plan to compensate some county employees with premium pay passed at the county level this week.

On Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council voted 4-3 to allocate grant funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to allow premium pay for certified correctional officers, 911 specialists and communication specialists within the sheriff’s office.

While officials say guidance from the federal government allows the county to use ARPA funds to reward eligible employees who worked onsite throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, some council members argue more county employees should be added to the incentive program.

“I don’t want to vote against anyone getting a bonus …,” Councilman Joe Holloway said. “The problem for me is there were a lot of other people put in the same situation that these employees were. I don’t know how we pick and choose which people were most at risk.”

As the county awaits the results of a comprehensive salary study, Psota told council members more was needed to attract and retain employees in the department of corrections, emergency services department and sheriff’s office.

To that end, the county’s administration developed a plan to reward correctional officers and communication specialists with an incentive program. A first payment of $1,500 will be made to eligible employees hired on or before June 30, 2021, followed by a second payment of $1,500 to eligible employees hired on or before Dec. 31, 2021. The total cost of the program would be $520,000.

Holloway, however, said he couldn’t support a plan that excluded other county employees. He pointed out the county had more than $600,000 in salary savings, and asked why that money was not being used to create a larger program that included other departments.

Psota noted those salary savings were often used within departments each year. He said he was safeguarding that money for that purpose.

“We could use those funds, we could use reserves, or we could use the American Rescue Plan funds, which is what we’re proposing,” he replied.

Councilmen Josh Hastings, Bill McCain and John Cannon acknowledged the entire council wanted to see all county employees compensated, but noted the county was restricted on how it could use ARPA funds.

“This resolution isn’t being done in exclusion of other departments at all,” Cannon said. “This is simply the first step we were very sure we could take in order to start to address these problems … We’re hitting the most critical areas right now.”

McCain added that the situation was most dire within the department of corrections. Officials noted as of this week, at least 27 correctional officer positions remained vacant.

“The corrections situation is a desperate situation …,” Councilman Bill McCain added. “So I would certainly like to see this move forward because I think time is of the essence.”

Councilwoman Nicole Acle said she didn’t support the plan as proposed, as it excluded other county employees. Council President Larry Dodd agreed.

“I feel like not paying other employees and not having another plan for the other employees is somewhat divisive,” he said.

With no further questions the council voted 4-3, with Holloway, Acle and Dodd opposed, to allocate ARPA funding for premium pay to correctional officers, 911 specialists and communication specialists within the sheriff’s office.

“I would like to see in five weeks, four weeks, if there are any numbers on how many people are still resigning,” Holloway said. “I’d like to see if we have any results from this.”

Dodd agreed.

“I would also like to see a plan on how we’re going to compensate other employees if possible,” he added.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.