Habersham Commission approves public safety, emergency services bonus

Habersham County has struggled to keep public safety and emergency services positions filled due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Monday night, the county commission passed a measure that would award bonuses to those working in the county’s stretched-thin staffing, and hopefully attract potential employees.

At their Monday meeting, the Habersham County Commission approved bonuses for Habersham’s public safety and emergency services departments, totalling at around $430,000. The bonuses will be covered by funds the county received from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“This will help all agencies fill open positions better with part and full-time personnel until the county can complete the salary study that is being done by the Carl Vincent Institute,” Habersham County Emergency Services Director Chad Black told Now Habersham preceding the meeting.

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The HCES departments have seen major personnel shortages due to the pandemic; as of Sept. 10, there were 24 vacant positions across the county’s public safety and emergency services departments. The bonus adds an additional $12.50 per hour as an incentive for personnel who cover at least 6-hour shifts left open by employees out due to illness, quarantine or scheduled time off.

“Our folks [in the county’s public safety deparments] are excited about it [the bonus],” said Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell at the meeting.

There would also be a one-time $500 bonus for all full-time employees in November and a pay incentive of $75 per shift for an individual that fills the vacant Battalion 1 or Captain 1 roles.

(Hadley Cottingham/Now Habersham)

“I think it’s a good idea for a temporary fix, but we have to keep in mind that this [bonus] is through the end of the year. This isn’t a sustainable long-term solution,” Commissioner Bruce Palmer said during the discussion. “We have to find a different method of controlling the bleeding, so to speak. We have ARP funds now that we can supplement this with, but at some point, all of this will go away and we’re back to being within the budget.”

Since the county voted to raise pay for the underpaid Sheriff’s department in May, Terell says that pay increase has attracted new employees to the Sheriff’s office. “We’re still a little shorthanded, but we’re attracting from Hall County and some other places,” he said.

A recording of the meeting is available on the county’s website here.

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