Monroe County 2023 budget notebook: Councilors mull $2K one-time retention bonus

In 2023, Monroe County employees could see a $2,000 quarterly retention bonus, paid out quarterly.

The screen grab from the CATS broadcast links to the video recording, cued up to the start of the discussion about the potential $2,000 one-time bonus.

That’s in addition to the 5-percent COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) that their draft budget already includes.

The working number for the total 2023 Monroe County budget is in the ballpark of $90 million.

Here’s the back-of-the-napkin math some councilors did on Thursday: $2,000 times about 600 employees equals about $1.2 million more.

None of that is certain.

The next steps in the county’s budget process include a public hearing on Oct. 4 and a vote that is set for Oct. 18.

Discussion of the $2,000 retention bonus came on Thursday (Sept. 15), after five nights of budget hearings that stretched across two weeks. Monroe County councilors wrapped up the budget hearings with a discussion of employee compensation.

The idea of a retention bonus paid out quarterly is an approach the city of Bloomington is also using this year for its 2023 budget. Bloomington is looking to pay employees an additional $250 a quarter in 2023 for a total of $1,000.

The one-time bonus does not raise base pay, but does put some extra money in the pockets of employees who are looking at a 7.5-percent inflation rate, measured between December 2020 and December 2021.

The $1,000 figure was where the county council’s discussion started, but after another half hour of conversation that number had doubled.

It was councilor Geoff McKim who floated the idea of a one-time $1,000 retention bonus to start the discussion.

Councilor Jennifer Crossley suggested $1,200—which is the annual amount corresponding to an even $100 per month.

Much of the ensuing discussion centered not on the amount, but on which employees would receive the bonus.

The big question was: Should elected officials receive the retention bonus? The consensus on that question seemed clear—elected officials should not receive a retention bonus. Less clear was a consensus on the status of the chief deputies for elected officials under the retention bonus policy.

On the question of paying elected officials extra money on a one-time basis, Crossley said that as an elected official it made her feel “grimy” to even think about putting elected officials in the mix for a retention bonus.

Crossley ticked through the reasons the county is losing employees: “We’re losing people to Catalent. We’re losing people to other counties. We’re losing people because people are fed up. We’re losing people because they’re going into different fields. Because after COVID people realize the amount of crap that they won’t take anymore.” Crossley wrapped up by saying, “I really want it to go to the people that matter the most.”

Councilor Trent Deckard weighed in for considering the chief deputies of elected officials for inclusion in the one-time bonus. Deckard reasoned that they had the option of leaving their employment, whereas elected officials really did not.

Elected officials are “committed to the term that they serve,” Deckard said. When they run for office, elected officials are saying to the public that they’re going to be there for four years, whereas a chief deputy can leave, Deckard said.

The idea of going as high as $2,000 for the one-time bonus emerged when it was recognized that leaving elected officials out of the mix meant more time to consider the question—even though deadlines are looming for submitting 2023 budget numbers to the state, and for advertising the numbers for the public hearing. The salaries for elected officials can’t be changed in the year for which they’re set. But the salaries for other employees can be changed at any time.

So county councilors asked county council administrator Kim Shell to prepare a breakdown of the budget impact of a $2,000 retention bonus.

[CATS recording Sept. 15, 2022 cued up to retention bonus discussion.]

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