Premium pay: Berryville council approves extra cash for employees
Berryville city employees will soon see some extra compensation after a Sept. 20 vote by the Berryville City Council, which approved a plan to provide the city’s 48 municipal employees with “premium pay” for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Resolution 1089 — which passed by a unanimous vote — qualifying city employees will receive an additional 50 cents per hour worked from March 1, 2020, through May 30, 2021, for a total of $72,503.76.
“They showed up and kept all the city services that were available going,” said Mayor Tim McKinney, “so we’re going to try and get everybody some [extra pay]. I know the employees will appreciate it.”
The funds — which include a $500 incentive bonus for city employees who were vaccinated against COVID-19 before Sept. 1 — were obtained by the city under the American Rescue Plan Act, which provides a measure of fiscal relief to state and local governments and other program areas aimed at mitigating the continuing effects of the pandemic.
McKinney presented the idea to the council during its Sept. 6 meeting.
“We’ve got this … money and one way you can use that is to go back and give essential employees some premium pay,” McKinney said at that meeting. “We’ve looked at several different options and need to decide if we want to do that. We looked at 75 cents added to that time period and 50 cents an hour for that time period.”
During the citizens’ comments portion of the Sept. 20 meeting, the council heard from local resident Margarita Harrison, who presented the council with a petition in opposition to the city’s proposed plan to replace a rope barrier on one side of George Pond, a popular fishing spot, with a chain link fence, a move intended to increase safety in the neighborhood surrounding the pond.
Harrison, who said she lives a few blocks away from the park, told the council she and other petitioners had gathered 118 signatures, but admitted that only 76 of those were Berryville residents.
“The City of Berryville leaders have proposed building a chain link fence along George Pond for safety reasons,” the petition read. “We believe this would endanger current wildlife habitats, discourage fishing at the pond, and destroy the overall [a]esthetic of the pond in the community.
“We, the undersigned, are adamantly opposed to a fence being built along the pond. We urge leaders to protect the people by slowing down traffic with speed bumps and regularly policing the area for protection of human life and wildlife.”
McKinney, who maintains that the request for the additional safety precautions came from city residents who actually live near the park, said the proposed fence is not yet “a done deal,” but that the recent change to one street making it one-way, along with a reduced speed limit and increased frequency of police patrols had already been noticed.
“A neighbor from that area told me today that there’d been a policeman over there quite a bit lately and they were already seeing a difference,” McKinney said. “A resident, somebody who lives over there, they saw the police over there on several occasions.
As for the proposed fence, McKinney expressed more than a bit of frustration.
“We haven’t decided,” McKinney said. “If the people don’t think we need it there, we just won’t put it there. Let the kids run wild and the geese.
“They complained because there wasn’t any protection and they were getting in the road. How are you going to keep them out of the road without a fence? I’m confused. I’ll be real truthful with you, Margarita — I don’t know what those people want.”
In other business, the council heard from Berryville Police Chief Robert Bartos, who delivered his department’s monthly report.
According to Bartos, city police issued 122 citations in August, down from 129 a year ago, and investigated 69 offenses, down from 89 this time last year. The department’s clearance rate for the month, Bartos said, was 86 percent.
The department took in $1,310 in fines and bonds and responded to 13 traffic accidents, down from 15 a year ago.
The council also reviewed the monthly financial report showing sales tax collected in the city during the month of August. According to the report, the city received $175,398 from the 1 percent sales tax — a significant increase from the $157,218.83 received in August 2020 — and $87,699 from the city’s half-cent sales tax.
Of the tax money received, $128,302.38 was added to the city’s general fund, $17,000 to the sewer bond fund and $15,839.80 went to the street fund. The remainder was divided between the Saunders Museum and the parks commission funds, which received $4,751.94 each, and the tourism and cemetery funds, which received $2,375.97 each.
The council also approved a request from several businesses for a special event to be held on the south side of the downtown square on Oct. 9. The event, billed as “Runway on the Square,” is intended to be a fashion show featuring school cheerleaders as models, along with hayrides around the square.
The council’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 4, at Berryville City Hall.