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Frio County commissioners took no action last week on awarding county employees, elected and appointed officials a second premium pay incentive from the American Rescue Plan (ARP).
“This was brought up in a meeting in Laredo,” Frio County Judge Arnulfo Luna said during the Monday, December 13, meeting. “Some funds from the ARP can be used for the employees, so I just estimated two thousand [per employee].”
In July, the ARP delivered nearly six million dollars to Frio and La Salle counties for a substantial infusion of resources to help turn the tide on the pandemic, address the economic fallout and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery, according to the US Treasury in a prepared statement.
Congress passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package in March that included $350 billion in direct aid to states and cities, designed to support local governments that had experienced tax revenue shortfalls as businesses locked down during the coronavirus pandemic.
Frio County received $4 million, which will be disbursed in two pay-outs of $1.9 million; $1.6 million is the remaining balance of the first pay-out.
According to Frio County Auditor Crystal Marquez, the county has used the money for employee and elected official pay incentives, donations to local non-profit organizations and personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Last year we gave a one-time premium incentive pay of $1,500,” the auditor said. “This year we gave it to staff that didn’t qualify. We need to consider the increase of unemployment and retirement contributions.”
If commissioners had approved the second pay-out, it would have reduced the ARP funding by $340,000.
In May, 121 county employees received the $1,500 incentive; in October, elected officials and state-run offices received their $1,500 pay.
“We had to wait for some people, like the elected officials, my office, the WIC office and juvenile probation to get approval,” Marquez said. “It had to be posted in the newspaper.”
Judge Luna, Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Jim Sindon, Pct. 4 JP Jack Proctor, Pct. 2 Comm. Richard ‘Dickie’ Graf, Pct. 3 Comm. Raul Carrizales and Pct. 4 Comm. Jose Asuncion opted not to receive the one-time incentive pay.
“I hate to throw cold water on this,” Comm. Asuncion said during the December meeting. “I am sorry. There are lots of flaws with this plan. You cannot give incentive pay to elected officials.”
Asuncion said he believes ARP fund disbursement must be justified.
“Being that we just gave a premium pay-out of $1,500, I would be hard pressed to have to justify that for the same reason,” the commissioner said.
According to County Attorney Jospeh Sindon, the first incentive pay was justified by the change in the employee leave policy.
“We wanted to incentivize employees to stay home and keep people at the county well and have financial cushion,” Sindon said. “I would hesitate to rationalize that twice.”
Marquez said commissioners have set aside $57,000 of rescue funds for contributions to local non-profit organizations that include the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of South Texas, the food bank, Meals on Wheels, Alamo Transit, Frio Friends of the Family, formally known as the childcare board, and the South Texas Children’s Advocacy Center.
Earlier this year, the court approved two $15,000 contributions to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #9195 and the Knights of Columbus. However, those checks have not been issued yet, the auditor said, because the recipients need to provide documentation that the funding will be used for COVID-19 related expenses.
Marquez, Graf and Asuncion are currently working on purchasing signal repeater devices for communications towers in Moore and Bigfoot to help facilitate access to the 911 emergency call system in the area.