By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Oct. 6 — On Tuesday night, the Page County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to allocate $156,000 in county funds to provide bonuses for county employees due to the added pressures, issues and hazards of operating county services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These folks have been loyal and dedicated…they’ve showed up,” District 3 supervisor Mark Stroupe said prior to Tuesday’s vote. “I think that deserves some recognition.”
The bonuses will cover employees working for the county during the last 19 months, but they will be prorated based on length of employment during that time. The amounts will be tiered and range from $1,500 to $3,000 per employee.
County Administrator Amity Moler commented that her recommendation for staff bonuses follows similar actions by other local governing bodies, as well as an announcement by the state compensation board to provide up to $3,000 for each sworn law enforcement officer by the end of November.
While a significant portion of the Page County Sheriff’s Office is covered under the $117,000 for bonuses committed by the state compensation board, at least 18 positions are not covered. In order to match the state’s bonus for those 18 positions, the county will have to pay $54,000. Of that amount, the sheriff’s office said they could pay a little over half from within their own budget, with Moler offering $25,000 from the county’s general fund.
“When this was announced, I got us looking into the rest of the staff,” Moler told the board on Tuesday. “All of our staff has worked all year long…couldn’t take any time off, with people getting sick and you’re trying to cover…everybody covered for everybody else…when they were out for 10 to 15 days. Even though we closed [the county offices] to the public, we were still here.”
The one-time bonuses will be allocated in the first payroll of November to match the state’s schedule, and tiered locally as follows:
• $3,000 — sheriff’s office, EMS;
• $2,500 — landfill employees;
• $1,500 — administrative, clerical,
treasurer’s office, commissioner of revenue’s office, other departments.
“This is all [to be drawn] from money I have from within the general fund from savings from other things…staff changes,” Moler said.
While many localities are making similar moves with federal relief dollars trickling down in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Page County has dedicated its remaining $4 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to a regional broadband project aimed at ensuring every home has access to the internet. Those funds are tied up until December when the state will render a decision on the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) grant application.
However, while those funds are on hold waiting for a decision, county officials felt secure in allocating the local funds for employee bonuses after increased revenues at the Battle Creek Landfill, savings on the new radio system project, and staff attrition.
“I think this is something that we can afford to do,” District 2 supervisor Allen Louderback said on Tuesday, “because as we’ve talked about too with staff…some turnover, some people leaving, has freed up some money in those categories, so we’re really not dipping into any funds to do that.”
District 1 supervisor Keith Guzy made the motion to allocate $156,000 in bonuses for county employees, which was seconded by Stroupe and adopted unanimously.
“I think it will be a big boost for morale,” Moler said.
Also at its Oct. 5 work session, the board of supervisors:
• Heard a presentation from John Shannon of OD Security North America about the technology involved with an advanced screening system that could be used at the Page County Jail to find objects hidden inside body cavities. Problems have risen at the county jail, including a pending lawsuit, that have involved drugs and other items being hidden inside of body cavities and brought into the jail. The “body scanner” could cost up to $165,000 — but supervisors felt it was something they needed to seriously considered in the near future.
• Unanimously voted to set a public hearing for a rezoning request from IBR Corporation for Tuesday, Oct. 19. IBR wants to rezone 1.15 acres at 5550 US Hwy 340 near Stanley from agriculture to commercial use. The rezoning would allow for the leasing of an existing detached garage to an established local business that does mobile metal work / welding that wants to expand its operations. There were no objections to the project from the Health Department, VDOT or the county building official. The Page County Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval following a Sept. 28 public hearing.