Baldwin County Commission puts brakes on ARPA-funded pay increases

Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 8:24 PM CDT
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BAY MINETTE, Ala. (WALA) - After just two months of pay increases for Baldwin County employees, the Baldwin County Commission is putting the brakes on the ARPA-funded program. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 provided $350-billion dollars to help state and local governments through the COVID pandemic.

Nearly $22-million dollars in supplemental pay was approved, but some Baldwin County commissioners claim they weren’t aware of the total amount and have now voted to cease the payments. In its regular meeting Tuesday, August 16, 2022 the Baldwin County Commission voted to continue paying employees extra wages through December and then revisit what the best use for the county’s ARPA funds should be.

By a 3-1 vote, the Baldwin County Commission approves pulling ARPA-funded employee pay raises
By a 3-1 vote, the Baldwin County Commission approves pulling ARPA-funded employee pay raises(Randy Lowe)

It’s a compromise reached just since Monday when commissioners Jeb Ball and Billie Jo Underwood were ready to pull the plug immediately. Veteran commissioner, Skip Gruber and newly elected commissioner Matt McKenzie felt like it wouldn’t be fair to employees. Excerpts from Monday’s work session showed the tension.

“I’m not saying to keep it,” McKenzie said of the pay hikes. “I’m just saying, can we work at it? We’ve got to have options.”

“I think that we have to answer to the taxpayers and the citizens as to how we spend this money,” Underwood stressed.

“I saw the number, seven hundred and fifty thousand and I thought that was the number,” Ball recalled from a previous meeting. “I didn’t know that it was seven hundred and fifty thousand for thirty months, so I can’t sell this to the public.”

“This commission knew what they were doing with that,” Gruber challenged back.

By Tuesday’s regular commission meeting, Skip Gruber sided with commissioners Ball and Underwood, agreeing to halt the ARPA payouts to employees. McKenzie was the only dissenting vote. The compromise will allow employees to keep receiving extra pay through the end of the year.

“It’s just a tough decision to make, to go one way or another because people are counting on that money and also taxpayers could probably feel like that money could be used differently and that’s a long duration to be paying people a lot of money like that,” said Baldwin County resident, Win McBride of the dilemma the Commission found themselves in.

Commissioner Gruber said the money saved will be able to help other groups who qualify under the terms of ARPA assistance.

“You’ve got a lot of other organizations that need…actually in dire need right now for some aid and assistance which would still help our employees in the long run,” Gruber explained.

The employee pay program was scheduled to go through 2024. By cutting it off in December, the county will save approximately $18-million dollars which can be dedicated to other projects and eligible programs.

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