Socorro County Commissioners (from left): Craig Secatero, Glen Duggins, Manuel Anaya, Ray Martinez, Joe Gonzales.
File photo

 

The Socorro County Commissioners are trying to reallocate some of the county’s American Rescue Plan funds to offer county employees incentive pay for working during the pandemic, following the lead of the Socorro School Board and Socorro’s City Council.

The county commissioners had already allocated all of the $1.6 million the county received in the first half of ARP funds. The county will receive a total of $3.2 million. The second half should come in spring 2022. The federal funds are meant to help the community recover from COVID-19 and can be spent on a wide range of things. The commissioners have allocated ARP funds for everything from cybersecurity to road projects to the county vaccine raffle.

However, last week the commissioners discussed reallocating some of that $1.6 million to employee incentive pay, to recognize county employees for working through the pandemic. Both the City of Socorro and the Socorro School Board have allocated significant ARP funds to employee incentive pay, which the commission initially declined to do.

Commissioner Manuel Anaya said that after having conversations with other commissioners around the state, he realized that Socorro County has allocated far more funds than most counties to directly assist local businesses. Anaya said he believed that to “make it right” the commission should try to dedicate $500,000 towards employee incentive pay, the same amount that has been allocated for grants to assist local businesses.

One of the commissioners, Glen Duggins, benefited from the local business grants himself. Duggins owns a farm with his son, Cinco Estrella Chile-Five Star Chile, which received a $50,000 grant. The commissioners do not determine which businesses receive the grants. A separate committee vets grant applicants. The commissioners did decide how much money to allocate to business grants, and Duggins was a strong supporter of putting money toward helping local businesses recover from the pandemic.

The following businesses have also been recipients of those grants: El Camino Real Housing Authority received $50,000, San Antonio Bar and Restaurant LLC received $50,000, Puerto Seguro received $14,000, El Puente was awarded $50,000, Bodega was awarded $50,000 and the Socorro County Fair and Rodeo Association received $45,250. There are still several businesses with applications in hoping to receive some of the remaining funds.

Multiple county department heads advocated for incentive pay for their staff, pointing out that county staff had to figure out how to provide services safely to the community despite the pandemic.

“I know my staff, they see other people getting compensated and they kind of, heads hang differently,” said detention center administrator Eddie Garcia. “At the same time, we’re short-staffed, but I commend my staff. They work overtime and a lot of times they don’t want to do it, but they’ve got mouths to feed at home and they suck up their pride and they do it.”

County Manager Michael Hawkes said he believes he can find $200,000 from the already allocated ARP funds that will not be needed for the purpose it was allocated and potentially re-designate it for employee incentive pay by November. There may be more allocated to the widowers and widows fund and the vaccine raffle than needed, said Hawkes, and some of the road projects may be delayed because of supply chain issues. Then the commission could allocate $300,000 from the second half of the funding toward employee incentive pay in the spring, for a total of $500,000.

All of the commissioners present at the meeting, Anaya, Joe Gonzales, Craig Secatero and Ray Martinez, were supportive of allocating ARP funds for employee incentive pay.

Gonzales suggested the county offer incentive pay to every employee, plus additional incentive pay for employees who choose to get vaccinated. The city of Socorro has pursued a similar option, offering incentive pay for employees who showed proof of vaccination by Sept. 30 and additional incentive pay for all city employees.

Sheriff William Armijo was frustrated by this suggestion.

“Shame on you if you’re going to even consider giving somebody who’s vaccinated more than the other employees who put in just as much work as anybody else,” said Armijo.

“I don’t know why you said shame on you, because that’s part of the conversation, that’s part of an adult conversation because that is identified within treasury guidelines,” said Hawkes later in the meeting. “So, it’s part of the conversation of where do we go, what do we do, do we even consider it or not? It’s not set in stone.”

Hawkes will give the commissioners a breakdown of how much funding is available and where else employee incentive pay funding could come from at their next regular meeting.

Cathy Cook, Editor, El Defensor Chieftain