CORUNNA — The Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners Thursday voted to give additional county employees bonuses using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, a step aimed at “reducing the spread” between the varying payouts previously awarded to employees and elected officials in July.

Commissioners voted 4-3 Thursday to award top-level administrators, department heads and those deemed middle management a $5,000 bonus while also gifting an additional $1,000 to lower-level county employees who previously received bonuses of $2,500, $2,000 and $1,500 under ARPA. Elected officials will not receive a bonus under the approved payout pitched by Board Chairman Greg Brodeur, R-District 2.

Commissioners Marlene Webster, R-District 1, Brandon Marks, R-District 4, and Cindy Garber, R-District 6, voted against the payout, with Webster instead suggesting a plan that would have guaranteed all county employees a $2,500 bonus.

The move to award new and increased bonuses under ARPA comes after a widely criticized vote July 15 in which commissioners, following a legally questionable closed session, voted to award themselves and other county elected officials COVID-19 hazard pay bonuses using ARPA funds, with the bulk going to themselves and other elected officials rather than employees.

A Genesee County judge subsequently ordered all county employees who received a bonus of $5,000 or more to return the payments.

“Rather than have their money pulled back, anyone that got the $5,000 or more, we’re going completely level that and simply give $5,000 to those people, middle managers and above,” Brodeur explained Thursday. “This is not an uncommon thing where you’re giving bonuses to people, whether you base it on percentage or flat rate, that people in higher levels get a little bit more. But on the other hand, it seemed to me that the spread was too much and by giving all of our other employees another $1,000 it reduces that spread significantly.”

Top level administrators receiving a $5,000 bonus include county Finance Director Tracy Bublitz, Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Tim Hill and Health Director Larry Johnson. Eight individuals classified as middle management will also receive $5,000 under the plan, according to County Coordinator Brian Boggs, who declined to take a bonus after receiving and paying back a previous bonus.

Approximately 116 lower-level county employees who received a $1,000 bonus in July will now get an additional $1,000. The same is true for 15 county employees who previously received $2,500 bonuses and five county employees who received $2,000 bonuses.

A separate plan proposed by Webster would have ensured all county employees — ranging from top-level administrators to low-level employees — received $2,500. Employees who previously received $2,500 would not have gotten any additional funds under the payout, while those who previously received $1,000 and $2,000 bonuses — along with upper-level employees that had to return larger bonuses — would all be brought up to $2,500.

“I feel like probably the 116 people, many of them had more frontline exposure, so while upper management may have had some increased workload, probably frontline people were the ones who were more face-to-face with the public,” Webster said. “By giving everybody $2,500, you don’t have to justify, why is there a category that’s $5,000? Why is there a category that’s $3,500? Why is there a category that’s $3,000? And why is there a category that’s $2,000? You just don’t have to explain that. Everybody got $2,500 and it all equals out.”

Marks expressed support for Webster’s plan, deeming it an equitable solution. Commissioner Jeremy Root, R-District 5, made a motion to approve Brodeur’s plan, which gained support from fellow commissioners Gary Holzhausen, R-District 3, and John Plowman, R-District 7.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank commissioners Webster, Marks and Garber for your vote today. … What you did through your actions was indicate support of the frontline essential workers,” county employee Olga Quick said during public comment. “I find it unfortunate that the balance of you couldn’t take the opportunity to hear what not only I said but I’m sure others have said, and I’m even unclear as to whether you reached out, because what you (just) did spoke volumes to us.”

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