The city of Searcy is using its American Rescue Plan Act funds to provide bonuses for its employees.
At a special meeting Friday, the Searcy City Council approved $324,651 from the federal funding and $73,599.70 from the city’s general fund to go toward the one-time premium-pay bonuses for all part-time and full-time city employees.
Mayor Kyle Osborne said hopefully the checks will be cut next Friday, giving part-time employees $500 and full-timers $1,500. The expenditure also includes $21,729.50 in Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax and $27,729.20 in Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System funding required by federal and state law.
The American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law March 11 by President Joe Biden, and “provides fiscal relief funds to state and local governments and other program areas aimed at mitigating the continuing effects of the [COVID-19] pandemic,” the city’s ordinance states.
It was also stated in the ordinance that the act permits the option of using the funds for “premium pay for eligible employees in order to provide additional support to those who have and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical infrastructure sectors.”
“As you know, it’s been some time since we’ve been able to do anything at the end of the year for our employees,” Osborne told the council, “and fortunately, we’ve been blessed with the American Rescue Plan Fund and this falls into this category. So working with the clerk and a couple of aldermen, I put together a proposal for the council to consider.”
He said the city has 24 part-time employees, not including the eight council members, who also will receive the bonuses. Those receiving bonuses also include 222 full-time employees.
“The last few months have brought a lot of things to all of our attention as we worked to try to get the [permanent 1-percent] sales tax passed, which thankfully we did,” Councilman Don Raney said, “and during that time of reflection, I thought about the city employees and how we did the [salary] study, we moved the rate adjustment, we tried to do step increases, and with these funds becoming available and part of the use being for employees, I think this is wonderful.”
Councilman David Morris agreed “wholeheartedly.”
“Our employees are our most valuable asset we have,” Morris said. “We can have the finest and best equipment money can, but without the capable and skilled and trained employees to operate that, the equipment is useless to us. It would either sit on the parking lot and not be used or if it’s used improperly, it would be torn up. So definitely our employees are our most valuable asset and I feel like Mr. Raney, if we have the funds available, we need to compliment them to a certain degree. It is a reward for the good long work they have done and continue to do.
“On my way over here today I passed by one of the brand-new trailers with the vacuum sucking up the leaves ... and those employees were doing an excellent job. It’s two-fold, complimenting the new equipment that we got for the leaf pickup. There again, it's just an example of how our employees are our most valuable asset.”
Councilman Dale Brewer added that “the city government is here to provide services to the citizens and you can’t do that without employees. ... They are important, very important, and I think this would help our employees a great deal at his time of year.”
However, he said that “next year, I hope we can look at some permanent increases, salaries and hourly wages. Even with this we will still have problems of their salaries maybe not quite matching up to other cities in the area and we need to work on that so we won’t be losing our good employees and then take a look at the CDL [commercial driver’s license] drivers situation, try to increase income there to obtain and retain good employees in that area. There are so many ways we need to provide for these people so I think this is a great start.”
Councilman Rodger Cargile commented on being able to provide the bonuses primarily through federal money.
“I want to say that this is a great idea,” Cargile said. “I am 100 percent in support of it and I think if we had to fund the $398,000 anywhere in the city’s coffers, it would have been money well spent, but when we are getting the federal government to pay $324,000 of it, I think it’s awesome.”
Councilwoman Tonia Hale called it a first step “to say thank you for all the hard work.”