After a heated exchange, the Board of Commissioners approved a resolution supporting a one-time $1,000 bonus to county employees in a 2-1 vote, with Commissioner JaNice Van Ness voting against.
The bonus, estimated to cost about $965,000 total and available starting June 15, would be for full-time employees who have been with the county at least a year. For part-time employees who worked more than 20 hours a week in fiscal year 2011, there would be a $250 bonus.
About 700 employees would be eligible. The county has about 200 employees exempt from overtime and about 700 hourly employees, according to Finance Director Roselyn Miller. Elected officials would not receive a bonus but the nine non-elected employees making more than $80,000 a year would receive the same $1,000 bonus.
About $800,000 of that would be from the general fund for county employees and the rest would be from Water and Sewer funds, which operates separately, and for water and sewer employees.
Previously, Miller said the county departments have been under budget so far for 2011 by about $2 million, reducing the need to dip into reserves. The bonus would be drawn from the reserves.
Van Ness said this was not a strategy in the best interest of county employees, especially since the forecast for this year's tax digest was already lower by 8 percent.
"It is simply a band-aid to appease these employees, who do work very hard and are very committed to Rockdale County. But in order for us to prevent furloughs, unpaid holidays, or eliminate jobs in the next budget cycle in 2013, I would recommend we look at long term strategies based on performance evaluations that were just recently completed for every employee in the county," she said.
Commissioner Oz Nesbitt said the county was not in a position to give employees a real raise. Cost of living increases have been frozen since 2008.
"I'm not moving forward with this action to appease any one employee at all. I think our employees have worked above and beyond the call of duty," Nesbitt said.
He pointed out many employees are living paycheck to paycheck. "If you've never been in a situation like that where you're having to figure out how you're going to pay your water bill, light bill, rent or mortgage, car bill, baby bill... But if you're in that situation, you can easily identify with the fact these employees need that money."
He continued, "We've talked about it for well over a year. Now it's time for allow your words to match your actions.
Put your money where your mouth is. Let's give these folks this money and move this forward."
Van Ness later said she misspoke when she used the word appease, but continued to express her concern. Last week she had described an idea that had been discussed of offering a $500 bonus instead of $1,000. Nesbitt said he had received many calls, emails and comments against that idea.
Oden replied that she had direct access to Miller and to Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon. "For you to try to throw the Chief of Staff under the bus today about not communicating with you is inappropriate," Oden said.
"We're not appeasing anybody. We have been very fiscally responsible for the last three years. There's ample resources in this budget to be able to allow and allocate these funds."