Allegany County suddenly grants employees $500,000 in bonuses

BREAKING: The Allegany County, NY, government workforce suddenly became beneficiaries of a half million dollars in bonuses this afternoon when county lawmakers approved a previously unannounced package which appears to have violated State Open Meetings Law requirements.

Ways and Means Committee Chair Brooke Harris of Alfred introduced the topic at the end of the regular pre-Board of Legislators committee meeting which considers resolutions from other committees and bill payments, with the bonuses subject not being on the agenda.

The only hint of the resolution was a notation on the tentative agenda, emailed to news media at 11:48AM that an unattached resolution was “not pre-filed and will require a 2/3 vote to consider from the floor.”

The resolution wasn’t included in the Board packet emailed to media late yesterday afternoon.

Allegany Hope Community News emailed Clerk of the Board Brenda Rigby Riehle at 1:14PM, apparently as the subject was being introduced publicly to the committee, requesting a copy of the unknown resolution. It was received at 1:44PM, just before the start of the Board’s 2PM session.

Public notice under Open Meetings Law
The Open Meetings Law, which the county board and committees often are ignoring, provides that “…. any proposed resolution, law, rule, regulation, policy or any amendment thereto, that is scheduled to be the subject of discussion by a public body during an open meeting shall be made available, upon request therefor, to the extent practicable at least twenty-four hours prior to the meeting during which the records will be discussed.”

Under the resolution adopted today, “eligible full-time employees who have worked 35 hours per week or more, exclusive of overtime, in 2022,” along with part-time workers with an average of 20 hours per week receiving a pro-rated share, will obtain a one-time $1,000 County Employee Retention Bonus in December.

Disbursements are subject to collective bargaining unit agreements, with $500,000 being funded from federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for local government pandemic relief.

The county has received nearly $9 million in such monies which can be used for a wide variety of projects which otherwise would be paid for through local tax dollars.

Bonus qualifications
Allegany Hope Community News has asked whether “eligible full-time employees” are all current personnel, including those who recently were granted substantial wage increases for next year and those who are new to their positions, and whether the $500,000 estimated cost includes rates for fringe benefits.

During Board discussion, Chairman Philip Stockin of Houghton said the resolution is “a very, very important step and we are very, very glad to do this. We appreciate our county employees and all they do and this is an opportunity to take some of the ARPA money and give it back to the folks who have worked so hard throughout the pandemic and since. We’re very, very appreciative and this is a small way we can do this ….”

Several other legislators also voiced approval in committee and at the Board meeting, all voting in favor of the resolution, with Legislator Debra Root of Scio absent.

Riehle confirmed that bonuses only apply to those currently employed and not those who may have left during or after the height of the pandemic.

Previous bonuses
Some department heads and employees already have been provided with separate bonuses through a state program, with those allocations made earlier this month to:

– Department of Health: Director Tyler Shaw, Melissa Watson, Diane Franklin and Melissa Grantier – $1,500 each; and Deborah Fuller – $500.

– Community Services (Mental Health): Part-time Director Robert Anderson – $500; and Deputy Director Lindy White, Carrie Hoopes, Jacob Marcy, Megan McClune-Smith, Christina Torrey, and Carina Watson – $1,500 each.

Total costs
Riehle referred our questions in regard to fringe benefit costs, along with base and fringe benefit expenses for the previous salary increases, to County Administrator Carissa Knapp and County Treasurer Terri Ross, who also serve as county budget officer and deputy respectively, but no response has yet been received.

Although Harris didn’t identify specifically who was recommending or introducing the bonuses resolution to the committee, and no copies were provided to the public, it appears it came from Knapp and Ross.

Video of the committee and Board actions, which involved approximately 15 minutes of discussion total are at, starting at approximately 14:40 minutes, and, starting at approximately 53:15 minutes, respectively.

Photo from Allegany County Livestream: Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brooke Harris of Alfred, left, reads parts of a Memorandum of Explanation in regard to employee bonuses during today’s committee meeting, while Legislator Dwight Fanton of Wellsville listens.
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