Gardiner hands out bonuses to city employees for pandemic work

GARDINER — City employees will receive $1,000 each and department heads will receive $2,000 as part of bonuses recognizing their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gardiner City Council made the decision late Wednesday to designate about $70,000 of the $597,000 in US federal Bailout Act funds the city is receiving this year and next. Council members’ debate was not whether to give city staff the bonus, but how to calculate what employees would receive and who should be included.

Although the city’s economic and community development committee has developed a series of recommendations on the use of federal relief money for the city council to consider, it has not weighed on employee compensation.

Mayor Patricia Hart said city officials don’t think it would be fair to have a working committee look into it.

The elected officials briefly considered dividing the payments in proportion to service and offering different rates for full-time and part-time employees.

“Some people aren’t going to like it no matter what we do,” At Large Councilman Tim Cusick said. “That’s how it’s going to be. To me, anyone who works for the city of Gardiner, that’s a one-shot by any number. Say it and move on.

District 4 Councilman Marc Rines suggested allowing city management to determine how to split the amount that the city council decides.

“It’s a really complicated equation to throw a random number that we choose today,” Rines said. “I don’t feel like I have enough information.”

General Counsel Kathy Brown said she was sure city employees worked very hard and the purpose of the compensation was to thank them, regardless of their level of responsibility or their duties.

“I don’t know what to do with part-time (workers); maybe they were working more than part-time,” Brown said.

At Large City, Councilman Rusty Greenleaf pointed out that the Gardiner Area School District gave employees $250 gift cards and the Augusta School District gave their employees $3,000.

“If you’re asking for amounts, it’s hard to decide,” Greenleaf said.

After considering other options, councilors agreed that employees on the city’s payroll starting Wednesday should receive $1,000 each and department heads should receive $2,000, after Hart noted that department heads were working long hours and on weekends during the pandemic.

Acting City Manager Anne Davis said Thursday she was working with the city’s finance department to issue checks next week. Payment of the premium will not affect how the remaining funds are to be used.

The municipal council adopted the recommendations of the economic and community development committee.

The city’s highest priority will be investing $25,000 in remote meeting technology for the city council meeting room and $25,000 in remote meeting technology for the Gardiner Public Library.

City officials will allocate $64,000 for CPR machines for the Gardiner Fire Department and $118,000 for radio communications upgrades, if it fails to secure ARPA funds through the process of grant from Kennebec County.

And they plan to spend $30,000 on an assessment of the city’s facilities.

City officials will also set aside funds for a two-tier grant program open to Gardiner businesses and nonprofits. Eligible organizations will be able to apply for grants of $1,000 to $10,000 and $10,000 to $25,000 for projects or programs that support priority issues at Gardiner, such as child care, affordable housing, food insecurity, business support and building community resilience.

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Maria D. Ervin