Merry Christmas Sussex County Employees

Sussex County   Christmas will be coming a little early for every Sussex County Employee this year.    It seems that every fulltime Sussex County employee, will be receiving an end of the year bonus in this pay period, Friday the 18th. And not a bad bonus at all. In speaking with Chip Guy, Sussex County Communications Director, it has been confirmed that every fulltime county employee will see a $750.00 bonus this year.  Mr. Guy also stated that the total cost to tax payers will be approximately $375,000.00 .

After being told of this bonus, I reached out to Mr. Guy, along with the members of the County Council, all but Sam Wilson, who is still in recovery from his health issue, which has kept him from serving in his capacity as councilman. I left phone messages with Mr. Cole, Mr. Arlett, and Council President Mike Vincent. I did call Mrs. Deaver, but did not leave a message, because honestly, I didn’t think she would call me back, so that one is on me.

I received return calls from both Mr. Vincent and Mr. Arlett. In talking with Mr. Arlett, I was told that the county’s employees had not received a cost of living adjustment, or COLA, in two years, and that the county administration had felt due to the fact the employees had been asked to do more, with less this year, all employees deserved a bonus.

Both Mr. Vincent and Arlett expressed their feelings, that the bonus would improve moral, in fact, Mr. Arlett went so far as to say that he felt that over the years,  the Council and the administration seemed to have become disengaged from the “troops”.  And the bonus was a good way to reach out to the employees.

While I was told by Chip Guy,  bonuses are not guaranteed from one year to the next, I was told by Mr. Arlett that the employees did receive a bonus last year as well, though last year’s was only a third of this year’s, at $250.

The employees were told last week they would be seeing this bonus on the 18th, so don’t worry, I’m not ruining the surprise. And quite the surprise it is, after all, there was no vote, according to all three people I spoke with, required to spend this money, in this way. Let me make it clear, I am not making any accusation of any wrong doing here, let me repeat, I am not making any accusation of any wrong doing here.

However, I was told this $375,000.00, is money from, “savings in our health benefits for Fiscal Year 2016. Funding was already budgeted and approved earlier in the year by the Council. With the County Administrator’s approval, the County is using a portion of those health benefit savings to provide a one-time bonus as a ‘thank you’ for employees’ continued hard work this past year.” According to an email from Mr. Guy.  The County Administrator is Mr. Todd Lawson.

So the way I am understanding this, is that, Sussex County, through sound fiscal policy saved enough money out of the approved budget, to be able to move this money around, to pay for the bonuses to reward the hard work of the employees. Since the money was already approved in the budget, though not designated for this particular purpose, there was no need for further public debate, nor another vote.

The more I think about this, the more questions come to mind. Why is it better for moral, to give a one time bonus, than a cost of living adjustment?  In talking with Mr. Vincent, he gave me a ball park figure of $70 million in the surplus fund. It would seem,  if the County is doing so well, which obviously they are, at managing the tax payer’s money, then couldn’t we afford to adjust the wages of the employees. While I am sure the employees are grateful for the bonus, I wonder, if they had their choice, would they prefer a little more in their checks every pay period instead?

Another question comes to mind, while there is no requirement to call another vote, to move the money around, does anyone think, for transparency purposes, would it have been better to at least make it public, rather than going for the surprise? After all, there are some citizens who may ask, considering that we have a $70 million surplus, and we saved this money, how come there was no consideration to giving back to the citizens? After all, we have seen fees and licenses raised in recent years, even though property taxes have been held in check. Isn’t that where this money came from? As well as a slight increase in the transfer tax.

One other question which I asked, both Mr. Vincent and Arlett, was whether this bonus was in any way related to the fact that just  this October, 65 employees of the County’s Division of Environmental Services voted to unionize for collective bargaining for a contract. They both gave an emphatic, no.

In a Delawareonline article, it was quoted as, “The vote to unionize was prompted by concerns about pay, benefits and fair treatment by supervisors, said Michael Begatto, executive director of Delaware Public Employees Council 81 AFSCME AFL-CIO, which helped organize the workers and will help them at the negotiating table.”

So, following a division of the county, deciding to unionize over concerns about pay, benefits and fair treatment in October, the County’s Administration and Council, decided to give a bonus three-times larger than last year’s, to boost “morale”.  But there is no relation between the two. Okay.

Let me be clear, I am in no way questioning whether or not the county employees are hard-working, or if their jobs are challenging and difficult. It is after all called work. My point in asking these questions, is about transparency in government, and the responsibility to all the citizens of Sussex County, which the Admiration and the Council have, not just to those who work for the County.

Finally, I can’t help but to see similarities between this, and the unbelievable pay raises that the General Assembly bestowed upon their staff in a similar manner. There was no public debate, or disclosure in that case either. It is fine for our elected officials to want to reward a job well done, to keep people’s moral up in order to not increase the turnover in employees, which in the long run, can cost tax payers even more in training new people.

So yes, I have no problem with our elected officials rewarding their employees and staff, but I would remind them, they too are employees. I know that if I were to decide to use my company purchase card to reward another employee for a job well done without at least running it by my boss, I would be in serious trouble. This is not a private business, this is public business, I think we are all better served if we keep all of the business as public as possible.



5 Comments on "Merry Christmas Sussex County Employees"

  1. Pat Fish says:

    I understand that government employees, local, state and federal, need raises….monetary incentives if you will.

    They get very secretive about it because it causes the public great umbrage. The fairest way to do this is to give the employees a bonus, as just happened….COLA raises are based on, duh, COST OF LIVING and seniors aren’t getting cost of living raises this year nor should Sussex county employees.

    BUT BUT BUT….give the citizens a bit of a break on their property taxes at the same time!

    Here’s the press release:

    To All Citizens of Sussex County:

    Sussex county employees have worked for two years now with no cost of living increase in their pay. Sussex county has a surplus in its pension fund and we’d like to give these employees a bonus.

    With that same surplus, Sussex county wants to offer our citizens a 1% cut on property taxes, for THIS year only..

    This way we better split our surplus to boost morale from our employees who serve our county so well, and we give back to the citizens who provided the funds to do this.

    I must say this is a really great piece, Frank. I am super impressed.

  2. mouse says:

    They would be better off keeping the tax cut and putting it into infrastructure. I don’t need the 7 dollars that badly

  3. Geezer says:

    The question is why there is $70 million in a surplus fund.

    Lawsuits in other jurisdictions have found this practice illegal. Government is supposed to pay as it goes — this year’s taxes pay for next year’s services. Otherwise you are taxing today’s residents to benefit tomorrow’s, who may not be the same people. That’s fine for a business, but government is not a business.

    As conservatives are wont to say, the people can spend their own money better than the government can.

  4. Rick says:

    …every fulltime Sussex County employee, will be receiving an end of the year bonus in this pay period, Friday the 18th. And not a bad bonus at all.

    What is with government employee bonuses? In private business- in sales, particularly- a bonus is often given for exceeding profit expectations. It is a reward for performance.

    But government produces nothing. The government’s money is taxpayer money. In essence, government employees are being given bonuses merely for doing their jobs (and one could argue that many of them don’t do that very well). The whole concept is preposterous.

    All “surplus” funds should be refunded to the taxpayers, or at the very least, invested in a conservative interest bearing instrument to be used as a “rainy day fund.”

    And our career politicians wonder why their trustworthiness rating hovers somewhere between aluminum siding salesmen and pimps.

  5. mouse says:

    Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

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