Kent County votes to limit emergency pay to 2 weeks

Sheriff Brian E. Lewis presents Chief Colin Faulkner with a Certificate making him an honorary Kent County sheriff. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Kent County Levy Court commissioners voted to revise a 30-year-old policy Tuesday night to limit extra pay for essential employees during an emergency event.

Enacted in 1990, Policy 4-2 did not specify how long time and a half pay or compensation time could be in effect. Officials said it was originally intended for short-term events such as a snowstorm, tornado or other emergency.

A lengthy continuation of the coronavirus pandemic and extra payroll costs could severely drain the operating budget, County Administrator Mike Petit de Mange and commissioners said on Wednesday.

The policy was amended to cap time and a half and/or compensation time at 80 hours during a state of emergency. After that essential employees will be paid their regular salary, officials said, with overtime still paid after 40 hours in a week.

Sheriff Brian E. Lewis this week presented the Kent County Paramedics and the Emergency Communication 911 Dispatchers with certificates of recognition for their commitment and dedication in rendering medical treatment and services to the citizens of Kent County during the COVID-19 pandemic. From left, Paramedic Rachel Doan, Deputy Kim Warfield, Sheriff Brian E. Lewis, 911 Dispatcher Tim Brown and Director of Public Safety Chief Colin Faulkner. (Submitted photo)

Another concern was that increased compensation time over a long period could significantly lessen staff availability needed for ongoing operations, Mr. Petit de Mange said.

While county buildings remain closed, operations continue on a limited basis. Officials said revenue from fees and services have dropped since COVID-19 arrived, negatively affecting the General Fund.

Public works employees at the wastewater treatment plant in Frederica, Department of Public Safety paramedics, emergency management and dispatchers are deemed essential, along with custodians. The extra pay and compensation time amounted to about $33,000 in the first week.

According to the amendment, the policy is subject to revision by the county administrator in consultation with the Levy Court president which afford him or her maximum flexibility to maintain county operations.

Commissioner Allen Angel introduced the agenda item, which passed by a 5-2 vote. Mr. Angel, President Brooks Banta and Terry Pepper, Jody Sweeney and Glen Howell all voted yes.

While lauding essential employees meeting the challenges of the crisis, Mr. Angel said “It was a 30-year-old policy and a lot has changed, the world has changed. Whoever thought that a pandemic would hit the United States like it did? We’re looking at the fiduciary responsibility of the county and protecting the taxpayers money.”

Commissioners Jeff Hall and Eric Buckson voted no.

The enormity of COVID-19 and associated costs shouldn’t be overlooked, but Mr. Hall said “cost considerations of the policy in place shouldn’t be ignored, but the arbitrary cap of 80 hours as the sole solution to address essential personnel pay in the face of the pandemic was not the answer.”

Mr. Hall said he and Mr. Buckson agreed that “in the public’s eyes, the county is functioning across all departments and so we are not, in reality, closed.

“But, this is an unforeseeable situation in which our (essential employees)are working in an increased occupational risk environment in order to keep the county running.

“Ideally, we would have addressed the status of county closure, essential personnel status, and increased occupational risk in a comprehensive manner that may have resulted in multiple new policies that covered pay, protection, medical testing, and duration of funding the pay premium. …”

According to Mr. Buckson, “The issue is that the county, the union members and essential employees were operating in good faith under the policy that was fairly adopted, so they have a right to rely on that policy.

“So changing in the middle of the game, I don’t think is a fair thing to do. It also wasn’t a necessary thing to do.”

The 80-hour option was double the 40-hour option that were possible as well, officials said. Officials consulted with a labor attorney before taking action.

“If we fail to follow the advice our attorney we put the county in serious jeopardy,” Mr. Banta said.

Because building are closed, custodians are working half shifts, and the essential pay brings their salary up to its regular amount, Mr. Petit de Mange said.

Mr. Sweeney described the resolution as “a fair and reasonable approach to this issue, taking into account the significant costs associated a policy that is outdated and not meant for an event such as this and the fact that these are taxpayer dollars.

“Over the last decade and more, Levy Court has been very loyal to our employees, providing increases and controlling health care costs, when other local governments were not providing increases or passing on excessive increased health care costs on to their employees.

“They have earned that loyalty. But we need to consider the costs associated with Policy 4-2 and its impact on 180,000 County taxpayers, too.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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