County debates COVID hazard pay

Sheriff Bryan Murphy asked county commissioners about plans to spend $2 million in county relief funds. He wants employees who worked through the COVID-19 shutdown to receive hazard pay.



June 2, 2021 - 9:59 AM

Commissioner David Lee, right, talks about COVID-19 hazard pay while commissioner Jerry Daniels, left, listens. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

Should county employees who worked through the COVID-19 shutdown receive hazard pay?

That was the question up for debate during Tuesday’s county commission meeting.

Sheriff Bryan Murphy spurred the conversation by asking if any decisions had yet been made regarding spending plans for the over $2 million received by Allen County via the America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Sheriff Bryan Murphy offers a plea to Allen County commissioners to use a portion of American Rescue Plan Act dollars to reward county employees for working during the COVID-19 shutdown. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

The maximum additional compensation for workers, according to ARPA, is $13 per hour with a cap of $25,000.

“There were county employees that were sent home with pay,” Murphy said. “But there were other county employees … They were essential workers and they had to work.”

In response, commissioner David Lee said, “I’ll give you David Lee’s opinion. If we give county employees dollars, then we’d have to give Walmart, the hospital, Pete’s gas station … everybody else, we’d need to give them dollars too. They worked through this also.”

“Unless somebody convinces me otherwise, right now I’m personally not in favor of doing so,” he added.

Commissioner Bruce Symes seemed to agree.

“Right now I’m not inclined to be able to justify in my mind, the extra pay for our employees doing what they’ve agreed to do,” he said.

That said, “I am willing to continue learning and studying this issue. It’s not cut and dried. … I’m willing to look at things as they evolve. We’ve got plenty of time. There’s no rush on any of the disbursement unlike last time.”

As for whether or not they’ll see a COVID bonus, then, county workers will have to wait.

During his weekly report, public works director Mitch Garner said that crews had been preparing local sites for dust control measures.

He added that only 38 entities had requested the service, which is down from as many as 100 in previous years. The window to sign up for this year is now closed.

Commissioner Bruce Symes attended Tuesday’s meeting remotely, which created an interesting communication dynamic.Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

Garner said the drop in requests wasn’t due to costs, since they have remained constant at around $1.70 per running foot.

Garner also mentioned that crews had been out mowing and trimming trees, though rains prevented drivers from reaching very far into wet ditches.

The county’s rock crusher remains in the shop at Murphy Tractor, awaiting additional parts, but Garner said “the main [components are] back in and put together.”

While discussing purchasing a pothole patcher for the county, it seemed consensus was that the need was too great to potentially wait an entire year for a specific model to become available.

Hence Garner said, “we could go ahead and bid it out,” perhaps through a different company or by selecting a different machine from the same company.

No new information had been received regarding purchase of an oil tank to accompany the pothole patcher, but Garner urged commissioners to consider a larger 6,000-gallon model that can hold the contents of an entire tanker truck.

Multiple positions are also available in the Department of Public Works, and Garner encouraged members of the public to apply.

Chelsie Angleton, 911 director, said that a recent presentation on hostage negotiation at the Bowlus had been quite successful.

She noted that the event likewise broke even on costs, and that some guests had driven for as many as six hours to attend.

Another related training, this time with law enforcement expert Phil Chalmers, is scheduled at the Bowlus for July 28.

Chalmers is marketed as a “true crime writer, homicide trainer and television personality,” and his presentation is titled “Inside the Mind of a Teenage Killer.”

One concern Angleton raised was how Iola as a whole might handle an influx of 350-plus people for lunch during Chalmer’s visit.

“We’re trying to figure out the best way to go about it,” she said, whether that’s by having lunch catered at the event or letting folks fend for themselves.

The event was originally going to be catered at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center, but logistical challenges arose.

Jason Trego, emergency manager, spoke with commissioners about watching out for potential extreme weather last Thursday.

No weather events were reported locally, though this Register reporter can attest to chasing the immense twisting stormcloud over Moran and Elsmore that had given Trego concern.

Counties lower in the state and in Oklahoma were indeed hit, however, and the Wichita forecast area reported its first tornadic activity in over a year (though they were only F-0s in intensity).

Trego also noted that he was attending a meeting later in the week related to addressing flooding and the costs associated with it.