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Council approves hazard pay for city employees

Suffolk City Council unanimously approved providing hazard pay bonuses to city employees ranging from $250 to $2,000 that will go into their Oct. 30 paychecks.

Council’s approval came at its Oct. 21 meeting. It followed previous discussion about hazard pay in September.

The cost of the bonuses, more than $2.4 million, comes from a combination of CARES Act money and city money. The bonuses are intended, according to city officials, to recognize employee contributions in dealing with COVID-19 while working for the city.

City workers, for the purpose of the hazard pay bonus, have been divided into tiers, with full-time employees in the first tier, those facing hazards regularly, receiving $2,000. Part-time employees in this tier will receive $1,000.

These workers are those whose jobs cannot be done in a virtual or remote setting and must be done face-to-face, with that work increasing the risk of contracting the virus through daily or frequent contact with the public, or have multiple in-person contacts with staff in different locations.

Those in the second tier, workers who provide support to the city, will receive $500 if they are a full-time employee, and $250 if they are a part-time employee.

To be considered for the bonus, city employees must have been hired on or before Sept. 30.

City Director of Human Resources Robin Wynn, in outlining the possibility of near-term hazard pay, said the city looked at it through “a very narrow lens.”

“It is the city’s intent to recognize the contributions that all employees continue to make during the (coronavirus) pandemic,” Wynn said in a brief presentation to council at its Oct. 21 meeting. “We believe that a tiered approach was the best approach in helping meet the needs of recognizing those employees facing COVID-related hazards on a regular and consistent basis.,” Wynn said.

Director of Finance Tealen Hansen said the CARES Act does not allow the city to pay bonuses through that money. What it does allow the city to do is something she termed a “presumptive election.”

“What that means is that we can presume by the rules of the CARES Act that all public safety employees’ salaries can be covered with CARES Act, except for bonuses,” Hansen said.

She said the city can transfer the actual salaries paid to some public safety employees between July 1 and Sept. 30, transfer it to the CARES Act and then use the money freed up in the general fund budget to cover the hazard pay bonuses.

“It’s kind of a technical detail,” Hansen said, “but it’s how we have to work that to work within the CARES Act guidelines and rules.”

The hazard pay bonuses will require $683,308 in transfers from the general fund to the city’s enterprise, special revenue and internal service funds to provide the bonuses to city employees who are paid out of those areas.