NORTH CHARLESTON — The city is considering bonuses for hundreds of its employees who worked during the pandemic.
City Council's Finance Committee approved spending about $4.5 million of its recently received COVID relief funds on premium pay that averages to roughly $4,000 per employee. Some staff members could see up to $5,000.
The final decision will go before City Council on June 24.
The bonuses are well-deserved for the city's essential workers, Councilman Ron Brinson said.
“Our employees showed up," he said. "They never complained."
Most of the money comes from the $12 million North Charleston received in its first tranche of the American Rescue Plan, which permits cities to offer premium pay to employees who worked during the public health emergency.
There are limitations. The pay cannot increase an employee's annual wage 150 percent above the state or county's average yearly wage for all occupations. Charleston County's average annual wage totals $50,810, which places a $76,215 limit for North Charleston employees in regards to bonuses.
The mayor recommends up to $5,000 payments for those subject to the $76,215 limit, depending on hours worked during the crisis.
Eligible employees over the cap would get up to $1,000 each. That money, which totals about $100,000, will come out of the city's general fund.
"We just didn't think it was quite equitable for someone who is slightly over that cutoff, but who nonetheless came to work and contributed," Brinson said.
Per federal guidelines, the money can be given to those who provided essential work, which involves "regular in-person interactions or regular physical handling of items that were also handled by others."
"That opens up a broad category," said city Finance Director Warren Newton.
The 12-month wage period being considered is February 2020 to January 2021.
Ninety-one percent, or 872 of the 961 employees who were active during that stretch are projected to receive an average premium payment of $4,000 each.
In addition to first responders and sanitation staff, office employees who showed up to work will also be eligible for the bonuses.
This will be the second time North Charleston offered extra money to those who worked despite elevated health risks.
In the wake of the pandemic's spread across South Carolina last year, the city offered hazard pay to fire, police and sanitation workers.
"We had personnel who had to work who could potentially face exposure," Newton said.
Brinson lauded the mayor and City Council for how it managed the city's finances, which saw a $1.5 million to $2 million monthly loss in revenues during the health crisis. To mitigate losses, the city laid off part-time employees, instituted a hiring freeze and didn't implement increases to its 2020 budget.
Though the pandemic isn't over, the city is beginning to recover financially, Brinson said.
"That's because we took a very disciplined approach," he said.
If approved, the premium pay will come over the course of five separate pay periods, with the first payment starting July 29.