SYLVESTER, Ga. (WALB) - Some people in Worth County are upset and want hazard pay for essential employees during the pandemic.
Over the past few weeks, WALB News 10 has received a few emails from people wanting to know why Worth County leaders are not giving out hazard pay during the pandemic.
“CARES Act money was made as a refund for public safety salaries. At this point in time, public safety salaries are above normal. This money was not intended to come down here to use for a bonus. That was not the intention of the CARES Act money and we took a look at it and we’re aware of some of the cities and counties gave out hazard pay or Christmas bonuses or whatever you wanna call it, (but) our county attorney told us that it was illegal, it was a gratuity. He checked with the ACCG, which is the Association of the County Commissioners of Georgia attorney. He told him the same thing, that it’s illegal and I don’t see how we can do it, I don’t care what the other counties are doing,” said Fred Dent, the Worth County Board of Commissioner chairman.
Worth County received almost $700,000 in CARES Act or COVID-19 Recovery funds, but before ruling hazard pay out, commissioners questioned how it would even work.
“Where does it start and stop? Who gets hazard pay and who does not get hazard pay?” Dent considered.
Dent believes county employees’ salaries are OK right now, especially after last year when county employees received a pay bump and the starting pay at the sheriff’s office was recently increased. He said employees who are working overtime are getting paid for it.
“When we got through this thing and we saw that we were on the upside of this thing, we would take another look at that and see about some increases for our employees,” said Dent.
Dent said the money is in the General Fund budget. He said they’re saving it up because right now, they are unsure of what the future will look like with the pandemic still all around us and the change of administrations in Washington DC.
“We don’t know. I’d say that we need to be conservative,” Dent told WALB.
So, where is the money going?
“We’re not doing anything with it other than we’re paying the jail, OK? We’re probably gonna be $130,000 over budget on other prisoner boarding. We’re potentially gonna be over on prisoner meals. We’re already way over on election salaries, we’re way over right now on sheriff’s deputy pay as far as overtime. That’s where it’s going.”
WALB tried reaching out to some county employees, particularly in the sheriff’s office. They have declined to comment.
City of Sylvester leaders said they did not issue an annual Christmas bonus this year. They said instead, they issued a one-time COVID-19 hazard allowance to employees.
The City of Sylvester used regularly budgeted funds to make that happen and not CARES Act Funds, said City Manager Autron Hayes.