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Grayson pays bonuses after saving on insurance

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Employee bonuses criticized, but county officials see them as token of appreciation

By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE – The Grayson County Board of Supervisors approved a new ordinance earlier this month allowing the county the option to provide bonuses to its employees.
County Administrator Jonathan Sweet prefaced the public hearing on Jan. 10 by pointing out that, according to state law, the county must pass the ordinance in order to provide any type of bonus above the salary for any of its employees.
Sweet said the ordinance was brought up by the fact that most jurisdictions provide their employees with some form of bonus, usually around the holidays.
While Grayson has never done that in the past, Sweet said the county was able to provide a $50 bonus to its employees last month through savings on health insurance rates.
Sweet said the county had budgeted for a 4 percent increase in rates, but actually saw an increase of only 1.4 percent at renewal. Because the employees managed their benefits so efficiently, Sweet said the county had a savings of more than $13,000.
Sweet said the decision was made to use roughly $10,000 of that savings to provide a $50 bonus to each employee. It was still an earned bonus, because the county saved those monies on insurance rates.
Sweet added that passing the ordinance doesn’t permit the county to give bonuses any time it wants, but instead makes it possible to do so in the budgeting process.
Only one citizen spoke during the public hearing.
“I didn’t know we have done gave [the bonuses],” said citizen Dennis Hines. “In good economic times, I wouldn’t be against it.”
Hines said taxes are “sky high” and in these hard times the county should not be paying out additional compensation.
Hines said that Grayson County employees make three to five times the average salary in the county and that “giving them a bonus is like slapping us in the face.”
Hines added that if times were good, he wouldn’t oppose it.
Hines felt his comments were all for naught, however, after hearing that the county had already paid the bonuses.
He said he hears from fellow citizens that the supervisors go into meetings with their minds made up, and he agrees with that assessment in this situation.
Hines added that, even though this bonus was paid through a cost savings, the county shouldn’t always spend any money saved.
“I don’t understand how we can save in one place and just give it away somewhere,” Hines said. “I’m not against giving bonuses to those making $30,000 and under, but it’s hard to give bonuses to people making $50,000 or better when we’re struggling.”
With no further comments the public hearing was closed and Sweet reiterated that any bonuses would not be given arbitrarily, but would be budgeted.
Sweet added that the county still saw a net savings of $2,500 from the insurance premiums and that the bonuses were paid out of funds that would have been spent on the employees anyway, through insurance premiums.
Supervisors’ Chairman Mike Maynard pointed out the responsibility the board has to manage costs and keep them as low as it can for the citizens who pay the bills.
One of the ways Maynard said the board has been able to do that is by keeping the human costs – salaries – at a manageable level.
Maynard said instead of adding ongoing costs – such as a salary increase – the board has tried to compensate employees through bonuses that are only paid out when money has been saved somewhere else.
“You can’t always afford to do it, but we need to be fair in the compensation,” Maynard said. “By no means is $100 or $50 going to change anyone’s life, it’s more of a symbol of the appreciation that we have and the citizens have for their service to the county.”
Maynard added that any cost savings were beneficial to the taxpayers, as well. Even after giving the bonuses, the county still came out ahead.
With no further comments, Supervisor David Sexton motioned to approve the ordinance. The motion was seconded by Supervisor Brenda Sutherland.
Prior to voting, Supervisors’ Vice Chairman Kenneth Belton did some rough math that showed the bonuses cost about 75 cents per citizen.
Supervisor John Brewer added that the bonuses go to “the guy that picks up your trash… the officer that protects your children… it’s a simple thank you.”
With no further comments, the motion passed unanimously.