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Benton County employees to get bonuses, extra holidays — here's why

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Benton County is boosting its employee benefits, including a one-time bonus, because of the pandemic.

The Benton County Board of Commissioners at its Oct. 5 meeting unanimously approved a plan that will offer $600 one-time bonuses, add two holidays to the ones employees already receive and offer health and wellness days during the coming year.

The county is using American Rescue Plan Act funds to pay for the program, board Chair Xan Augerot said. County officials estimate that the bonus program will cost approximately $445,000.

“COVID-19 and the stressful year and a half we have powered through were a major motivator for this recognition,” Augerot said by email. “We have discussed various permutations of this staff recognition for several weeks. ARPA funds may be used for COVID bonuses, but trying to tease out the who, when, and why some might be deserving and others not appeared to be very challenging.”

The bonuses are paid out on a sliding scale, depending on the number of annual hours the employee works. Those at 2,000 hours or above receive the full $600. The award drops to $450 for 1001 to 2000 hours, to $300 for 501 to 1,000 hours and $150 for 100 to 500 hours.

Employees can receive the money as additional compensation, as a pre-tax contribution to their health savings account or as a pre-tax contribution to a deferred compensation account.

The additional holidays that county employees will receive are Friday, Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving, and Dec. 23.

Employees also will be available to participate in three to five health and wellness events in which they can engage in activities during their worktime, such as meet with counselors with the employee assistance program, receive chair massages, play creative games and brain teasers and use “respite spaces.”

Lili'a Neville, senior strategic programs manager for the county, said the intent "was really to provide a range of days in which different types of events could be offered to our employees."

Neville said it is likely there will be an employee input process as part of the program.

“Our people have been such great, community-minded champions, but they are all tired,” Augerot wrote. “This move is an acknowledgement of the fact that they are the ones that make it possible for us to be ‘at your service, every day.’ "

"At your service every day" is the motto of the county organization.

The Benton County move does not seem likely to be duplicated by other major municipal organizations in the mid-valley.

“Linn County is not doing this,” Alex Paul, spokesman for the county, said.

Albany spokesman Matt Harrington said that city already offers the day after Thanksgiving as a holiday. The city also has an employee assistance program, Harrington said, but he added that “the employee is generally participating on their own time."

Harrington said there were no plans for a cash bonus.

The city of Corvallis also is not planning any COVID-19-related employee benefits, City Manager Mark Shepard said.

“City leadership is extremely thankful for the dedication, endurance and flexibility exhibited by city staff under challenging times in this pandemic,” Shepard said in an email. “However, the city is not currently contemplating making any cash payments to employees. I am not comfortable using public funds for direct bonus payments to employees.

“I feel we must be careful with the use of public funds, especially when we ask the community to support ongoing services through their taxes, levies, bonds, or service fees. As such, we look for ways to acknowledge city staff without using public funds to make cash payments.”

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@lee.net or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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