County ends workers’ hazard pay

By PJ Ferguson

After a long, heated debate, Washington County’ has ended its hazard pay policy providing time-and-a- half compensation for all hourly employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hazard pay resolution was adopted by the county board of supervisors on March 18 and soon after that it was believed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would reimburse the county for the hazard pay.

But county treasurer Al Nolette revealed last week that this was no longer the case.

The finance committee voted Tuesday to amend the original resolution to remove the hazard pay clause, effective Monday, May 18, at midnight.

When the resolution was taken up by the full board on Friday, Hartford supervisor Dana Haff suggested that it took effect at noon that day.

Hartford supervisor Dana Haff

“We need to triage,” said Haff regarding the county’s financial crisis. “The patient is bleeding out and let’s put the tourniquet on now.”

Itt was ultimately agreed upon by a majority of the supervisors that the effective should remain as Monday as to not change payroll in the middle of people’s shifts.

In regard to discontinuing the hazard pay, Salem supervisor Sue Clary argued that those working in the department of public health should continue receiving the time an-a half compensation. Additionally, Greenwich supervisor Don Ward suggested that 911 dispatchers continue receiving hazard pay as they were instructed they could not work second jobs in fears of spreading the virus throughout the communications center.

Haff strongly opposed both ideas, and questioned why the county was dictating 911 dispatchers choices on outside employment.

“The secondary employment of full-time employees is not a concern of the county,” said Haff, “I agree we should not restrict anybody what they do outside their full-time work, to me that’s unconstitutional.”

Board chairman and Fort Ann supervisor Samuel Hall admitted to making that call under the orders delegated to him by the county’s state of emergency declaration.

“Your state of emergency does not bypass the Constitution of the United States, I don’t care what the emergency is, thank you,” said Haff.

“In the Constitution that we took an oath to, one is to defend, one is to the state, so in between there is what we have to operate with,” responded Hall.

Hall then read a lengthy statement of support to the county employees that have been working during the crisis with emphasis on the public health workers who have fielded over 150 calls per day, and put in over 100 days of additional work.

“I know it’s unfavorable,” said Hall, “but if I have to put a life ahead of paving the roads, it would be a life.”

Hebron supervisor Brian Campbell said he understood all viewpoints but expressed concern over hazard pay’s continuation and not having funds available for other areas that may need to be addressed in the near future.

Hebron supervisor Brian Campbell

“There may be things we need to do later that we will not be able to do,” said Campbell, advocating against exempting public health and 911 dispatchers from continuing to receive hazard pay. “It probably does have to all stop now, if not we’ll be unfair to all these different groups of people and to each other.”

Granville supervisor Matt Hicks asked what “metric” would be used to determine hazard pay ending for those workers.

Argyle supervisor Bob Henke suggested that hazard pay continues until Washington County enters phase one of New York’s reopening plan.

“Which is going to be at least a month”, responded Hicks, “The bleeding we are talking about, $600,000 now, could be a million by June, and we’re just going to keep going until somebody else decides that it ends. It won’t be our decision, it will be somebody else’s,”

Granville supervisor Matt Hicks

“It is a timeline, it is a metric,” responded Henke.

Budget officer and Easton supervisor Dan Shaw questioned why Washington County was the only county he was aware of that was providing hazard pay for its employees in the state.

“Are we the anomaly?” Shaw asked.

“We are probably the anomaly,” responded Hall, “But we don’t have the responsibility for the safety and welfare of the public in other counties.”

To date, the county has spent approximately $551,000 of their budgeted overtime of $1.553 million. To continue the hazard pay for public health and 911 dispatch would cost roughly $30,000 per pay period for each department.

Whitehall supervisor John Rozell supported continuing hazard pay for the two departments.

“I realize it’s really hitting the taxpayers but we have to protect the people who are working for us,” said Rozell.

Whitehall supervisor John Rozell

Ultimately, the motion did not pass as only Clary, Hall, Henke, Rozell, Ward, Cambridge supervisor Cassie Fedler and Dresden supervisor Paul Ferguson voted to continue hazard pay for public health and 911 dispatch employees.

As that motion was only an amendment to revise the resolution to discontinue the county’s hazard pay policy entirely, the board still had to vote to rescind the overhanging order.

Most of the supervisors were in favor of rescinding hazard pay for hourly county employees, effective Monday at midnight, with only Hall and Shaw voting against the motion.



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