BERLIN– Elected officials this week agreed to give municipal employees a $500 holiday bonus.
The Berlin Town Council on Monday voted 4-1 to use contingency funds to provide each of the town’s 60 employees with a $500 one-time bonus.
“People really appreciate it, especially during the holidays,” Finance Director Natalie Saleh said.
Mayor Zack Tyndall said a discussion of a one-time payment had been added to the council agenda at the request of Councilman Steve Green. Last year, one-time payments of $500 were approved in December at the suggestion of then-Councilman Troy Purnell, who pointed out that the town had been in the habit of providing them before a two-year lapse.
Saleh this week presented officials with calculations that showed the cost of a $250, $500 and $750 payment. While contingency funds in water, wastewater electric and stormwater were capable of funding a payment, she said the general fund contingency didn’t have quite enough to fund any more than a $250 payment. She said the council could use potential end of year surplus to fund the difference or could reallocate the cost of the salary study underway to cover the difference.
Saleh said the general fund only had a contingency balance of $21,332.
“We can proceed… and leave as is because I’m very confident by the end of the year revenues will exceed what we’ve budgeted,” Saleh said. “Or we can potentially, we have advanced money from reserves to do a salary study. We can split that down to each individual fund which will free up the balance on the general fund side.”
Kelsey Jensen, the town’s human resources director, noted that the projected cost of one-time payments was actually less than the figures Saleh presented, as the town has several vacancies. Based on vacancies, Jensen indicated a $500 bonus for each employee would cost the town not quite $32,000. She said that once the vacancies were taken into account, the general fund contingency was capable of funding $500 one-time payments.
Councilman Jack Orris questioned whether one-time payments might be better at the end of the fiscal year, in June for example, as the town would have a better grasp on the amount of surplus it had by then. He said information provided to the council by staff showed that overtime was increasing substantially.
“People are picking up overtime because we have so many vacancies,” Jensen said. “They’re working later, working more events, than they typically would. People are working hard and they’d appreciate something.”
Green said municipal employees had received a $50 Food Lion gift card before Thanksgiving but that he still felt employees deserved a one-time payment in December.
“I know I’m new to this but I’m not new to managing people…,” he said, adding that he routinely saw town staff doing more than they were required to. “It’s more than a gesture. It’s a commitment from us.”
Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols echoed the timing question voiced by Orris. Councilman Dean Burrell, however, quoted Shakespeare and said that time was out of joint.
“I just think it would be more appreciated at this time of year during the holidays, when folks are trying to provide for their families,” he said.
Councilman Jay Knerr said he agreed 100%. A motion by Green to approve a $500 one-time payment using contingency funds subsequently passed 4-1, with Orris opposed.
Tyndall said funding for the one-time payments should be included in the budget in the future.
“Coming off of this, I think this body has valued those one-time payments,” he said. “I think it’s important if that continues that it’s a budgeted amount. If it means so much—I think it is meaningful—it needs to be budgeted accordingly.”
“I don’t think anybody wants to keep dipping into contingencies,” she said.
Orris said his vote against the one-time payment was not because he didn’t feel it was deserved.
“The no vote was not a reflection of work or how I feel about anyone,” he said. “I just had some concerns.”