By Ken de la Bastide Kokomo Tribune
---- — For the third time in four years, most Howard County employees will receive a bonus in July.
The Howard County Council on Tuesday voted to provide most full-time employees an $800 bonus and issue a $400 bonus for part-time employees. Not included in the bonus payment are employees who received a salary increase through the state for 2013.
Unlike in previous years, county elected officials will be eligible for the bonus because the council during budget discussions last year included the amount in the budget.
Pay increases for elected officials must be built into annual budgets, according to state law.
Elected officials have until July 5 to notify the auditor’s office in writing that they are declining the bonus.
Councilman James Papacek said the county underspent the 2012 budget by approximately $850,000 and the bonuses will cost the county $450,408.
Papacek said the county has an estimated general fund operating balance of $10 million.
“We have the money,” he said. “Part of the reason is the efficiency of the work done in the county departments. The biggest asset Howard County has is the employees.”
In 2010, full-time county employees received a $500 bonus and part-time employees received $100. A bonus of $625 was given to full-time employees in 2012 and part-time employees received $200.
Papacek said employees didn’t receive a salary increase in 2008 or 2009.
Commissioner Paul Wyman questioned the appropriateness of providing a bonus to the employees.
He said the county is facing a number of financial issues, including property tax caps imposed by the state.
Wyman said he would not accept the bonus.
Council President Richard Miller said the county is facing spending issues, including the cost of health insurance and an increase in retirement benefit payments.
“We made a commitment,” Councilman Jeff Stout said. “We should hold to it. The employees have been anticipating this.”
There was a lengthy discussion on whether the elected officials were included in the bonus proposal when the council discussed it during budget talks.
Papacek said he assumed the bonus would not include elected officials. When informed the bonus was included in the 2013 budget for elected officials, he included them in his motion to grant the bonuses.