Columbus Council amended an ordinance Tuesday that would’ve switched a proposed 20-hour employee bonus to a $500 option.
The proposed ordinance now calls for employees to receive a 40-hour bonus one paycheck before an Aug. 11 pay lapse scheduled to occur as the city converts to a new software system. If approved, the additional 20 hours would cost the city an extra $1 million.
Councilors will vote on the proposal at a July 25 meeting. On Tuesday, they changed the meeting time from 5:30 p.m. to 9 a.m. so the City Finance Department could meet a noon deadline for payroll.
If approved, weekly employees would receive their bonuses on Aug. 4 and bi-weekly employees on July 28.
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Councilor Skip Henderson made the motion for the 40-hour bonus, which was seconded by Councilor Mike Baker. Council approved the amendment with an 8 to 1 vote. Councilor Glenn Davis voted against it. Councilor Evelyn “Mimi” Woodson was absent from council chambers when the vote was taken.
Councilor Walker Garrett proposed the flat $500 bonus last week after Council delayed a vote on whether to double the 20-hour bonus. He argued that it would provide more money for employees most likely to experience hardship during the pay gap, and it would be less expensive to the city.
A 20-hour bonus already is included in the city’s FY2018 budget. The additional 20-hour bonus would impact the general fund by $785,000, city officials said.
When asked how the change would impact the city financially, Deputy City Manager Pam Hodge said the city budgeted about a 2 percent increase for the property tax digest. She said projections from recent property tax assessments put the increase closer to 6.5 or 7 percent.
But based on a discussion earlier in the meeting over controversial tax assessments, Hodge said she wasn’t sure how it all would shake out during the appeals process. Still, she didn’t expect the digest increase to fall below what was projected in the budget, she said.
She said city departments have been told to delay capital purchases until after January, which should also help the city financially.
At Council’s request, City Finance Director Angelica Alexander presented research on four suggestions made to remedy the payroll dilemma.
• Paying a $500 bonus to all eligible full-time employees. Alexander said that option would cost an additional $229,071 to the operating budget and would adversely impact 247 employees ranging from grades 14 and up, meaning they would receive less than if they received the 20-hour bonus..
• Paying the additional 20 hours to all employees excluding department heads and grades 18 and above. She said that option would cost $702, 231.
• Providing a minimum $500 bonus to all employees whose 20-hour bonus is less than $500. She said the additional cost would be $384,032. The 20-hour bonus amount would remain unchanged for all other employees if greater than $500.
• Not converting weekly paid employees to a biweekly pay cycle and moving the go-live time frame to December. Alexander said weekly employees would not receive a bonus if they are not converted to a bi-weekly cycle.
Councilor Gary Allen asked Alexander about another option that had been discussed, allowing employees to cash in vacation days in lieu of, or in addition to, the 20-hour bonus. He said it’s an option that would lessen the out-of-pocket cost for the city.
Under such an arrangement, the vacation cash advances would be optional, said City Manager Isaiah Hugley. Employees would be required to pay the money back over time. Once it’s paid, they could get their vacation days back.
But Alexander said it still would be cash going out the door. She said vacation days are accrued under the city’s pay system and some employees won’t have days that they could cash in. She also alerted council of city code that prohibits exchanging vacation days for cash payouts.
Assistant City Attorney Lucy Sheftall said Human Resources regulations would have to be amended to move forward with that option.
Councilor Jerry “Pops” Barnes, who made the original motion for the 40-hour bonus at the June 27 meeting, said something needed to be done for the employees, whether it’s the $500 bonus or the vacation advance.
Thomas, Garrett and Davis said they favored the $500 option, which would help employees on the lower end of the pay scale. Davis said he just couldn’t justify spending $1 million for the 40-hour bonus.
Henderson said he was most in favor of the 40-hour week bonus.
“I don’t see any way out of this thing other than doing the one-week pay to cover everybody, “he said. “... You’ll know what a hard head I am when dipping into fund balance, but we have employees that don’t have access to pay that they need to run their households.”
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