Carter County Budget Committee.. Discussion of ARP funds takes center stage

Published 9:46 pm Tuesday, November 9, 2021

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com

Carter County’s essential employees could receive a cash bonus as part of the county’s distribution of ARP funds.

“They kept the infrastructure up and going during the pandemic,” Commissioner Julie Guinn said of the essential employees. “They were in each other’s faces and I think that we need to take care of our employees.”

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The commission still has some $2.1 million American Rescue Plan funding that can be earmarked for employees who were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the budget committee meeting on Monday, Guinn advocated that those funds be disbursed to employees. “This has been brought up in numerous meetings and we have never done anything with it,” she said. “I feel like we need to look at this and see what we can do.”

Commissioner Brad Johnson agreed, saying “we should not spend another dime of APR money until the employees receive their money.”

The county employs 210 workers, including 182 full-time and 28 part-time employees. Guinn recommended a payment of $4,600 per employee, which would net between $2,500 and $3,000 in take-home pay.

“If the money is there, and I believe it is, then I think $7,000 would be a better figure … to really show the employees how well they are appreciated in this county,” said Roger Colbaugh, highway department superintendent.

Despite the desire to recognize employees, the county may face some challenges and restrictions in declaring bonuses and may need to proceed slowly. Commissioner Travis Hill said he has been attending webinars with other local government finance departments and does not believe every employee will be eligible for a bonus, even if deemed essential by the mayor.

“All those workers that didn’t have direct contact are not eligible so I think you are moving too fast,” Hill said. “You need to wait and see what the strict guidance is on this.”

Budget Committee Chairman Austin Jaynes agreed. “If you (were) not in direct contact, you won’t be eligible,” Jaynes said. “Even before we can pay out, we have to do a lot of data mining because we have to vouch for every hour that was worked … (and) prove they were here” and not sent home or rotated off the schedule. Jaynes warned that because of funding restrictions being set by the federal government “they will audit us to death on every piece and part.”

Another complicating issues is what to do with county school system employees, since the system did not receive essential pay funding. Any eligible employees deemed essential would have to be added to the county’s 210 employee count.

Mayor Patty Woodby warned that the additional $5.4 million in ARP funds likely will come with additional restrictions and stipulations on how they will be spent as well as restrictions on essential worker pay.

“The information I received said that we need to make sure that the worker had elevated risks during the pandemic; interacted with the public in doing their job; (and we must) have a summary of all employees receiving the bonus and how their job had COVID risks,” she said. “We may have to prorate some of the bonus depending on amount of time they worked. This is what they are doing in some of the other counties.”

The Budget Committee meets again at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 13.