On Wednesday, the City of Sebastian hosted two workshops to open a public discussion on how federal monies from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) should be spent.
The workshop showed growing support to use some of the funds to give essential City workers a bonus. But unfortunately, there’s been some misinformation going around stating all employees were to receive $5,000 bonuses, which is false.
The truth is, the first proposal was a tiered bonus structure for city employees that could give some workers $1,500, $3,000, and $4,000 based on the level of COVID-19 exposure.
The entire lump sum was $625,000 for employees, about 18.7% of the overall federal funds of the $3,332,790 available. Here’s the breakdown of the initial proposal on how to spend the funds in Sebastian from the American Rescue Plan Act:
- $1,057,500 – A program to connect all properties utilizing septic tanks in the Community Redevelopment Area to the County Sewer System.
- $750,000 – for the improvements necessary to solve drainage issues with the Gardenia Ditch.
- $750,000 – for constructing the con/span open flow design for drainage at Schumann Drive.
- $625,000 – a lump sum to eligible City workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- $150,290 remainder will be allocated as necessary to cover any excess to the other specified uses.
Mayor Jim Hill said the American Rescue Plan Act allows bonuses to local government employees who had to work during the pandemic.
“A bonus would be allowed under the use of this money,” Hill said. “For those individuals who were required to be working here during the pandemic in those times. But raises would not.”
Sebastian resident Susan Lorusso, a former City employee, was the first Sebastian resident to speak in support of City worker bonuses.
“The City employees have been through a lot,” Lorusso said. “I know there’s a laundry list of projects that could get done in the City, and it needs to be done, but please don’t forget your employees. They really, really, could deserve a little boost during this time.”
Another resident said that Gov. Ron DeSantis might be giving all first responders in Florida a $1,000 bonus for working during the pandemic. As a result, he suggested that the City consider using less federal monies on bonuses.
Many cities have already used federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to give their employees bonuses, regardless of the governor’s compensation.
“The federal government said it could be given to first responders and employees who are essential,” Sebastian Police Detective Ken McDonough said at the workshop. “We did not come to the City Manager and say ‘we want this.’ Actually, it was the City Manager who decided that he understood that part of this should be for the people that were here for the City. The people that protected the City when we didn’t know what was happening.”
“Nobody knew what we were dealing with when we went into people’s homes. When we assisted EMS mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” added Detective McDonough.
Sebastian Daily spoke with several first responders, and they say the term “bonuses” sounds terrible. Instead, they tell us it should be defined as “hazard pay” or something that reflects what they went through during the pandemic.
Sherrie Matthews, who ran twice for City Council, believes in taking care of the people. She believes that all Sebastian employees are essential.
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“If you would please consider that all of these Sebastian employees are essential. Every single one of them. Regardless of their job duties or assignments, they are all essential employees, and they deserve something because they were not signed up for this,” Matthews said.
Matthews also said to use the funds on infrastructure but said to take care of the people first because they did a fabulous job. She also believes the stormwater issue will always be an ongoing project because of new construction and subdivisions.
Opposition to City Worker Bonuses
But some residents also felt that the federal monies should be spent on priorities, such as infrastructure and items already mentioned in the first proposal, and nothing for City workers.
Some residents suggested not spending monies on bonuses and using them for stormwater, medical services, mental health services, affordable housing, environmental projects, septic to sewer, seawalls, and other infrastructure needs.
City Councilman Bob McPartlan agreed and said the funds should be spent based on the City’s top priorities.
“Is stormwater a problem for the City for Sebastian, or is it not a problem? If we’re not going to put money toward that, then I don’t want to hear that we care about stormwater anymore. I’ve heard that as long as I’ve been up here,” McPartlan said.
But Mayor Jim Hill disagreed and noted that the City already spends a lot of money on the stormwater.
“We do spend a lot of money on stormwater, so to say we don’t put money towards stormwater is not exactly true,” Hill said. “We spend a tremendous amount on stormwater, and we’re doing this study, and we will be allocating funds. I think it’s been clear that all the council members up here are committed to making sure we do that.”
The City of Sebastian is also conducting a salary review that might offer workers more pay. For that reason, one resident said to hold off on bonuses and to spend the federal funds on infrastructure.
Some residents also believe that the City should use the funds for the elderly and veterans before employee bonuses.
As one Sebastian resident told the City Council, “I don’t envy you” because no matter what they decide, not everyone will be happy.
Sebastian Daily has always recommended using some federal monies to compensate City employees. Other cities have done it, and some local businesses already gave out worker bonuses, a measure of “thank you” during the pandemic.
Is it fair to City employees to tell them they should not get any bonus because Gov. Ron DeSantis might give them money? Or that they shouldn’t be compensated during the pandemic because the City is currently reviewing salaries?
Looking at the initial proposal, $2,707,790 was going for infrastructure. The bonuses only made up 18.7% of the overall spending. Again, misinformation clouded these facts when the proposal from City Manager Paul Carlisle already addressed the concerns before the workshops.