City DopeNews

Commission Gives Pandemic Hazard Pay, Bonuses to ACC Workers

Mayor Kelly Girtz during the Aug. 3 commission meeting. Screencap via YouTube.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission voted last week to spend $8 million on back pay and bonuses for front-line government employees who worked through the pandemic.

“For the nearly 2,000 employees of the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government, this will provide recognition and, we hope, support for them, given, as we’ve all noted, this very challenging last 20 months or so,” Mayor Kelly Girtz said.

In particular, Commissioner Russell Edwards thanked police for “all the work they did during the pandemic, handing out masks downtown night after night, putting themselves in harm’s way. They really went above and beyond the call of duty.”

The Fire Department, Solid Waste Department and others performed similar duties, Commissioner Tim Denson added, even in the early days when little was known about the novel coronavirus and “people were scared to touch a cereal box.” Public Utilities workers even had to repair a ruptured sewer line filled with wastewater carrying the virus near a hospital the day after the initial lockdown began, according to Commissioner Jesse Houle.

Funding comes from the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress and signed by President Biden last spring. It provides state and local governments funding for COVID recovery, including $57 million for Athens-Clarke County, that can be spent on hazard pay, filling budget gaps, COVID-related expenses or water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

Eligible employees will receive $1.75 for every hour they worked on-site, but not remotely, between Mar. 16, 2020 and June 30, 2021. In addition, all current ACC employees will receive a one-time $1,000 retention bonus. ACC would claw back a prorated portion of the bonus if an employee leaves within the next year.

Like many businesses, the local government has struggled with filling vacant positions during the pandemic. Turnover increased from 12% in January to 17% in April.

The money will be in eligible employees’ December paychecks, Girtz said, allowing them to use it for holiday expenses.