However, the proposal didn’t go over well at Monday’s Montcalm County Finance & Personnel Committee for three reasons:
• Montcalm County voters just approved a 1 mill ballot proposal for the sheriff’s office one month ago, which will generate nearly $2 million in its first year and will restore 14 deputies to the job.
• Sheriff’s union members aren’t just requesting the pay and vacation raise for road patrol and corrections officers — they want it to include all sheriff’s employees, even those who work administratively in the office.
• The county can’t afford to give a similar raise to other county employees who are also dealing with the public during the pandemic.
Sheriff’s Deputy Charlie Mahar, who is vice president of the local Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) road patrol union, appeared before commissioners along with Deputy Mitchell Chapin, who is treasurer of POAM, and Todd Olson, who is vice president of the local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) corrections officer union to request an extra $2 per hour for 36 employees of the sheriff’s office, plus an extra two hours of vacation time per bi-weekly pay period. The proposed increases would be retroactive from March 24 — the day after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order — to at least April 30, which is when the order is currently set to expire.
The Daily News estimates the $2 per hour pay increase would total about $14,400 based on 40 hours per week per 36 employees over the 28 business days within that time frame (not including weekends or vacation pay).
“It should be noted that we are continuing to do our job responding to the same calls that we’ve always responded to,” Mahar told commissioners. “We’re still responding to domestics. We’re still dealing with a lot of mental health issues which causes us to be in and out of ERs and adult foster care situations. The hospitals and those adult foster care homes and those domestic situations all put us at risk. The jail is still taking people. They’re taking mostly serious offenders. They are still at risk, at great risk.”
Mahar noted that Michigan State Police and Michigan Department of Corrections employees are receiving an extra $750 per week in hazard pay, while Kent County Sheriff’s Office employees are receiving an extra eight hours of vacation time for every 40 hours worked, while the Rockford Police Department is receiving an extra eight hours of pay for every 40 hours worked. Mahar also noted Meijer and Walmart have given their employees $2 per hour raises as well.
Michigan State Police Public Affairs Manager Shanon Banner told the Daily News a COVID-19 pay premium went into effect April 5 for state police and is up to $750 per two-week pay period and is prorated based on regularly scheduled hours worked, up to 80 hours.
According to the Detroit News, 6,000 MDOC employees who work in close quarters with colleagues and inmates and cannot work from home during the pandemic will receive $750 per pay period in hazard pay starting May 14 and retroactive to April 5.
“We are out there continuing to do our job while most people are home and safe with their families,” Mahar said. “We would like you to consider a little something.”
“And then we’d extend it to the clerk and the treasurer and the register of deeds who are also seeing the public on a daily basis?” asked Board of Commissioners Chairman Patrick Q. Carr of Lakeview.
“I don’t know that anybody has the amount of contact than the road patrol has,” Mahar responded.
“But you’re talking a bigger scope than the road patrol,” Carr pointed out. “You’re talking everybody in your department. Do we extend it to everybody in the county then? How do we differentiate that? Is somebody from your group gonna come with me and explain to my constituents who have just passed a millage proposal for you guys and own a restaurant or a shop that are probably getting their tail kicked in how we’re gonna pay you guys more to do a job that you signed up for while they’re not able to even work? Is somebody from your department gonna come and explain that to my constituents that I’ve gotta answer to?”
“I would be happy to explain that to your constituents,” Mahar responded. “I know for certain that your constituents aren’t going into emergency rooms daily, aren’t going into adult foster care homes daily, aren’t going into domestic situations daily.”
“You guys probably have a bigger risk making six traffic stops a day not knowing what hammerhead’s got a gun under their seat than what you’ve got with this COVID-19,” Carr declared. “This is just a convenient place to tag onto this.”
“I don’t think that’s accurate,” Mahar replied.
“Your proposal isn’t even just for road guys, it’s everybody in your department,” Carr repeated. “I don’t know how in good conscience we allow that for that division and tell (Register of Deeds) Lori (Wilson) and (Treasurer) JoAnne (Vukin) and their staff that continue to see people that are in this essential realm that we’re not going to do anything for them. If you were coming and saying ‘I want this for the shifts that are out on the road dealing with these people’ then maybe, but I can’t get my mind behind how administratively anyone that works in the office is any different than administratively anyone else who works for the county.”
Mahar said two positions at the sheriff’s office have had difficulty being filled and the hazard pay funding could potentially come from those vacancies.
Sheriff Mike Williams told the Daily News his office currently has two deputy positions open — one created after a medical retirement and the other which was also created after a retirement and which has been filled and vacated twice in the last 16 months as the candidates didn’t pass a required field training program.
“We’ve really learned a lesson in the last few years about spending money when we don’t know where it’s coming from,” said Carr during Monday’s meeting. “It’s not going to be surprising if we take a hit on revenue sharing. People probably aren’t going to be able to pay their property taxes on time this year. I think we’ve got to be as fiscally responsible right now as we ever were or we’re going to be looking at similar situations to where we were a few years ago.”
“We have employees at home staying safe but continuing to be paid, which I don’t have a problem with, the only problem with that is we’re spending somewhere around $230,000 to $240,000 per pay period and not bringing in any revenue,” noted Commissioner Adam Petersen of Montcalm Township. “We’re not generating revenue because we can’t have the public come in. We’re essentially for lack of a better term bleeding money right now and we need to stay fiscally vigilant.”
“It’s conceivable that this request could last for a year or two,” added Commissioner Ron Baker of Howard City. “We don’t know exactly how long this problem (COVID-19) is going to be with us. If that’s the case, those numbers would extrapolate into enormous numbers over a period of months and years.”
“I would like to see some actual numbers and exactly who (would receive the hazard pay),” noted Commissioner Phil Kohn of Edmore. “We’ve got the whole county, every employee in the county who’s in public contact who could make the same justification, maybe to a lesser extent. I can’t recommend anything without seeing numbers. Don’t ask me to vote for anything if I can’t see any numbers.”
The committee recommended the proposal to the full Board of Commissioners for consideration but with the caveat that Mahar returns with some firm numbers.