UPDATE [Dec. 22, 2021 at 10:10 a.m]: At the Dec. 21 meeting of the East Lansing City Council, Council member George Brookover added a proposed resolution to the business agenda, calling for the City Manager to undertake a review of how funds allocated to the City of East Lansing through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) could be used to provide City employees with premium (extra) pay.
At the beginning of the meeting, Brookover moved to approve the proposed agenda but with an amendment to add his resolution to the business agenda, making it item 5.2.
During discussion of the new item, Brookover read his proposed resolution into the record.
“With regard to this agenda item, I move just for the purpose of discussion that we authorize the City Manager and or treasurer to undertake a review of the American Rescue Plan Act in order to advise the Council no later than Jan. 18, 2021, as to the possible use of such funds for premium pay for all unelected part time and full time City employees independent of but consistent with any existing employee collective bargaining agreements and or ongoing collective bargaining process,” stated Brookover.
Brookover said that the City hadn’t well considered appreciation to employees and asked that the City Manager, in consultation with the City Attorney and financial team, look into the possibility of providing premium pay independent of collective bargaining agreements.
Brookover added that he thought of the premium pay as a bonus, but acknowledged that was not the term used in the federal ARPA legislation. He explained that his motion was asking for further information, not a call for immediate action.
Council voted 4-0 in support of Brookover’s motion with Council member Lisa Babcock absent for the meeting.
Council member Dana Watson spoke in support Brookover’s motion and asked that the City consider premium pay for employees who had worked for the City for a considerable amount of time – giving the example of three years or more – but had left during the pandemic. Watson argued this was fair since it is taking the City some time to decide how to use ARPA funds, including $6 million that the City received in May 2021.
Update reported by Emily Joan Elliott.
Original story follows:
One option the City of East Lansing has for spending funds received via the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is to provide cash bonuses to City employees for the risk they endured to keep working in-person during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But, despite a number of respondents to a City survey on the use of ARPA funds — plus a letter from a coalition of City union leaders — indicating that the City should, indeed, offer bonuses or premium pay, that doesn’t seem likely to happen.
A survey to gather public input about the use of ARPA funds was published on the City’s website so people could leave comments and prioritize each item of the current draft plan. The survey was open for a total of three weeks, from Nov. 19 to Dec. 10.
Question three of the survey asked for suggestions about other uses of ARPA funds beyond what was suggested in the draft plan. Nearly 60 of the 130 published responses to that question called for offering extra money to City staff who worked in-person during the pandemic. (You can find those responses, and the whole survey, here.)
Some answers calling for bonuses were brief, like “pay the essential workers,” “premium pay,” and “give city employees a raise or bonus. They work so hard.”
Others were more intense, with “PAY YOUR PEOPLE! NO EMPLOYEES = NO SERVICES!” standing out.
And many cast shame on the City for altogether ignoring employee bonuses in the draft ARPA plan.
“Essential Employees who were required to regularly work, and still are working, during this COVID 19 Pandemic should receive this FEDERAL FUNDING in a form of a Hazard Pay Bonus, with values the same as neighboring Municipalities in Ingham County,” a respondent wrote. “… These employees were, and still are, constantly exposed to COVID, which places them, and their families in direct risk. It is an embarrassment that the only gratitude shown in barely a ‘thank you’ from the City Administration.”
Although 196 people added their voice via the City’s public input survey, as City Manager George Lahanas presented the survey results to City Council on Dec. 14, he focused on a fraction of the 196 respondents. He explained that after removing non-residents and those residents who did not share their addresses in the survey, there were actually only 70-75 viable responses to analyze, in his view.
Lahanas’ filtered version of survey results made little mention of the calls for premium pay or bonuses for City employees — and he did not mention at all at Council the formal letter addressed to Mayor Ron Bacon that directly spoke to the matter.
City union leaders are calling for premium pay in a letter sent to Council.
The City Council was sent this letter from the Coalition of City of East Lansing Unions (CCELU) at the beginning of December, calling for some ARPA funds to be allocated to compensate City employees with premium pay because of the risk they have endured as essential workers during a pandemic.
The letter — sent to ELi on Dec. 8 — is signed by presidents of six different City union divisions and highlights the economic turmoil brought about by the pandemic and how it hit local municipalities with a burden that they have now been coping with for 22 months.
The letter (which we would have had no way to know about if the union had not sent it to ELi) explained that one of the permissible uses for ARPA federal funds is hazard pay for employees. According the the Interim Final Rule, which sets the rules for the ARPA program and provisions, funds may be used not as a substitute for normal earnings, but as premium pay for “additional support to those who have and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical infrastructure sectors,” according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
The letter from local union leaders went on to define premium pay and who is considered an eligible recipient as a City worker. The authors also discussed the City’s plans for ARPA funds which have allocated “not a single penny” to those employees who have been serving the City during the pandemic.
The hazard pay that CCELU is urging Council to implement would allow City workers to take home a one-time lump sum — a compensation “to recognize the efforts and sacrifices” that these employees have made during a “once-in-a-lifetime” event that has left workers at risk since March 2020.
Based on the matrix presented, and according to the text of the letter, a firefighter or police officer could receive a bonus of $9,000, a Department of Public Works (DPW) employee could receive $7,500, and an administrative assistant, in the right circumstances, could receive $1,500.
Rather than discussing the requests for premium pay at the Dec. 14 meeting, Lahanas briefly mentioned the two packets of survey responses available for the public, one being the filtered version of approximately 80 responses that was analyzed at the meeting and includes a presentation toward the end of the packet, and the other including all 196 responses.
Lahanas noted that, “when you get to the 196 [responses], you are probably getting to people who have an affiliation with the City, maybe employees of the City or [those] who have other interests for weighing in.”
Only one member of City Council — Dana Watson — asked about bonuses for City staff as an option for ARPA-spending.
“Since we knew that some other [governments of nearby] areas chose to use ARPA funds for bonuses and increases,” Watson asked, “how come it wasn’t made an obvious option for people to choose from [in Lahanas’ presentations]?
Lahanas answered: “So, when I first developed this list, we had considered and then decided it was not the way to go in terms of this organization. Since then, there’s been Ingham County giving ARPA money, which has sort of changed people’s calculus about the issue of bonuses, so now we hear more and more about bonuses. So, this has kind of become a moving target, so to speak.”
He added that respondents did ask for them in response to question three of the survey (as outlined at the top of this story), and if Council desires to make that part of the plan, he said, they can discuss it in the future.
What else do we see in the 80 survey responses that were analyzed by Council on Tuesday evening?
These responses in the first half of the survey gave the City a partial look at which items in the current draft plan are a priority in the eyes of the engaged public.
The Homeowner Assistance Program took precedence, while renovations to City Hall were the least important to these 80 respondents.
Lahanas then separated comments from the second half of the survey — the open-ended portion — in order to quantify repeated themes from respondents.
Hazard pay for in-person employees came up here, too, as 16 of the 80 respondents requested bonuses for City employees. Sewer infrastructure, a program that has gained popularity, and in turn taken priority, is the most prevalent open-ended response among the 80 select respondents.
As Lahanas discussed the other topics mentioned in the comment section of the survey, he made sure to explain that many of these items may or will be addressed with dollars from other programs to come.
He took this opportunity to bring up past programs that have provided assistance in some of these categories, such as homeowner and business support. During Covid, the City eliminated licensing for businesses to the tune of a total of about $85,000 per year, and also assisted with mortgage, rent, and utility payments for some residents.
Lahanas reiterated that the City plans to prioritize ARPA funds for areas that are less likely to see additional assistance from the federal or state level.
For example, with the passage of the federal infrastructure bill, the City can expect to see money funnel in next year to address some of these infrastructure topics, like sewers. He also mentioned state money that is expected to assist with placemaking projects in the near future. If those come through, ARPA dollars awarded by the feds to the City would be used in other ways.
The latest draft ARPA plan has been reorganized.
The draft plan has now been reprioritized based on survey responses in accordance with the “Resident Feedback on City’s ARPA Draft Plan” graph shown above. However, nothing new has been added or removed. You can see the updated draft plan in comparison to previous drafts presented at Council meetings here.
In an effort to allow discussion to continue regarding the bulk of the funds, Lahanas intends to have Council vote on plans for $4.48 million in January or February 2022.
The $4.48 million include items that took top priority on the survey and were already included in the original draft plan. Nothing new was added to the plan, nor does anything additional appear to be under consideration, based on open-ended survey responses.
Council also separately discussed a check-valve program for residents using ARPA funds, something ELi has been reporting on. We expect to bring more reporting on that very soon, as the matter comes before Council for approval on the consent agenda tonight (Dec. 21).
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