Commissioners approve bonuses for county workers

Shelby County Commissioners sparred over how to spend a nearly $9 million surplus during Monday's meeting.
Shelby County Commissioners sparred over how to spend a nearly $9 million surplus during Monday's meeting.

(WMC-TV) - Not everyone is jolly about controversial almost $4 million in Christmas bonuses for Shelby County employees.

After job cuts led to an $8.7 million surplus, the mayor suggested using 3.7 million of that money for a 1.5 percent employee bonus. The vote sparked a two-hour debate in the county commission.

The vote to give Shelby County employees a Christmas bonus had commissioners and citizens alike offering their own ideas on how else the money could be used, including using it to fight homelessness.

"Part of the problem we have as Occupy Memphis in support of Occupy Wall Street, people are getting bonuses while other people are starving," said Occupy Memphis protestor Jack Armstrong.

Shelby County Commissioner Chris Thomas made a motion to defer the vote to further discuss the option of diverting the money to Memphis and Shelby County Schools teachers.

"They could provide school supplies and supplies that are needed that they're currently paying out of their own pocket," he said.

The commissioners learned that they must follow a strict set of laws and it might take a very long time for the money to actually get to teachers if it was designated for schools.

Commissioner James Harvey added that if it was sent to the schools, the commission would have no jurisdiction over how the money would actually be spent.

"Why send this down the tube when we will never be able to trail or track it again," asked Harvey.

The commissioners then voted down the deferral.

Commissioner Terry Roland said the funds should not be considered a bonus. He said it was money that was taken away from the employees during budget cuts.

"We also increased their co-payments from $20 to $30," he said. "They also have a new $200 deductible fee."

Commissioner Steve Mulroy then suggested using some of the money for workers and some for homelessness. Meanwhile, Commissioner Wyatt Bunker recommended using the surplus to lower taxes.

In the end, Commissioner Walter Bailey said the 1.5 percent model would give people with higher salaries higher bonuses. He suggested a $650 bonus for each employee - across the board.

The item passed 7 to 4.

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