Burton City Council approves hazard pay for employees

BURTON — Following the news that three Burton police officers have contracted COVID- 19, the city council approved a proposal to pay police, firefighters and city employees who are working on the frontlines during the pandemic.

The council voted to give bonuses to the following employees based on whether they have been working through the COVID-19 shutdown – police $1,000; fire fighters $250; and bonuses up to $1,000 for any city employees who are working above and beyond the call of duty during this time period.

“I’d like to thank all employees who have been coming in, trying to keep city afloat,” said Mayor Duane Haskins. “We have a bare bones staff, everything is essential.”

He referred to the three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the police department, as well as the extra work now heaped on the clerk’s department which is preparing and sending out absentee ballots for the upcoming Bentley school bond proposal, May 5. New Clerk Racheal Boggs and her department will conduct the entire election via absentee ballots.

City Councilman Dennis O’Keefe said the City of Flint recently gave its employees a bonus and it is something happening all over country.

“Our city employees have stood up when things have been tough,” he said, citing Interim Department of Public Works Director Charles Abbey going out on Easter Sunday to fill a massive pothole in the city by himself.

“I’m proud of our city employees,” said O’Keefe.

Councilman Tom Martinbianco said he wanted to know where the money for the bonuses is expected to come from in the city’s budget.

Haskins said there are a number of positions vacant current that cannot be filled right now during the coronavirus pandemic, freeing up enough money from the budget to cover bonuses.

“We have money in every department to cover this,” he said. “The police have it in their budget due to short staffing issues – they’re not running at full staff. The fire department has it, other departments are also short-staffed. There’s no need to pull from the general fund.”

Council Vice President Greg Fenner said his only concern was the bonuses affecting upcoming contract negotiations, adding that if they could find extra money in the budget for bonuses this year, some bargaining units might say they city could afford pay raises or bonuses next year.

“If we afforded last year, with they want it next year?” said Fenner. “I want to be assured this is not going to be used as contract negotiation ploy.”

Haskins said he thinks the departments will want to be fully-staffed by next year and won’t try to ask for extra money.

“No one wants to keep (staffing) like this,” said Haskins. “A year from now we’ll see how this has affected us. In the police department we’re calling our special forces back in for patrol duty because of shortages. We’ve eliminated the police hotline to put that officer on the street. It’s not like we have so much money sitting off to the side, it’s there because of sacrifices.”

Haskins said as of 3 p.m. April 20, the county had 3,237 cases of COVID-19 with 73 cases in Burton. Total deaths in the state from COVID-19 were at 2,468 deaths state

The council will meet again April 27 at 4 p.m. online.