San Carlos to give employees a $2,000 bonus, but city isn’t calling it ‘hero pay’ anymore

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Daily Post Staff Writer

The San Carlos City Council approved a plan to pay 70 employees a one-time payment of $2,000 as “recognition pay” for the work they did during the Covid pandemic.

The council on Monday (Oct. 11) approved the payment 4-0-1, with Councilman Adam Rak abstaining from the vote.

Rak said during the meeting that while he wants to support the city’s employees, he does not think this one-time payment is the right approach given the city’s more long-term issues of retention and workload.

At the council’s recent retreat, City Manager Jeff Maltbie brought up some of his team’s trouble in retaining employees. Rak said he’d rather look at the payments as part of a more holistic approach to keeping employees at City Hall. Rak suggested restarting the city’s employment subcommittee and doing an overall compensation review.

The rest of council agreed with Rak that retention and compensation ought to be considered, they said this payment is for their response to the pandemic.

Maltbie pointed out during his report to council that the city’s employees gave up about $400,000 last year by forgoing their cost-of-living raises and restructuring some of their benefits. The city also did not fill at least seven vacant positions and fired two people in the Parks and Recreation Department.

Councilman Ron Collins, who initially suggested what was originally called “hero pay,” pointed out that the $150,586 the city is using on the one-time payments is less than 40% of what employees gave up last year.

“These are the people who take care of us and the city every day,” Collins said, adding that he thinks they ought to be recognized for their long-term commitment. “I think that’s the right thing to do.”

Collins and Vice Mayor Sara McDowell pointed out that many employees spent about 35% of their time at city hall, despite city hall being closed to the public.

McDowell listed the various jobs that could not be done from home, meaning employees, particularly from public works, had to work on-site, whether it be at City Hall or elsewhere in the city. Some jobs McDowell pointed to were sewer lines being cleaned and repaired, streets being repaved, parked maintained, permits being processed and inspections of construction sites being conducted.

Additionally, McDowell highlighted the work that various departments collaborated on related to the Laurel and San Carlos Avenue closures.

“While I believe that many other workers like nurses and teachers and first responders all deserve to be recognized, it is in our purview tonight as a council to recognize the efforts of our own employees,” McDowell said.

But McDowell made clear this was a one-time thing, saying that bonuses should not come before council like this again, but instead be handled during labor negotiations or the budget process.

Hero Pay will not go to every city employee. Maltbie recommended the city give the $2,000 to people who worked a minimum of 20 hours per week from March 2020 to March 2021 and have a performance evaluation of satisfactory or higher.

Those ineligible for the $2,000 bonus are: the city council, city manager, city attorney, police or firefighters. The city outsources the police to the county Sheriff’s Office and outsources fire to Redwood City.

The city council, and in particular Collins, got the idea after hearing that the city of San Mateo was handing out hero pay bonuses.

San Mateo’s City Council approved in August. Council gave 414 city employees $2,000 if they worked from March 17, 2020, to May 30, 2020. The program cost San Mateo $879,314.