INTERLOCHEN — Pandemic bonuses are on hold for Green Lake Township board members, administrators and emergency services personnel as the township seeks guidance for how federal COVID-19 relief funds can be spent.
Marvin Radtke, the township supervisor, said board members recently decided to hold off on their previous decision to give Radtke, the rest of the board and the township’s deputy clerk, treasurer and supervisor extra pay from American Rescue Plan Act funds.
They did so in light of questions over whether those payments are a valid use of the money, Radtke said.
“We’re looking for defined guidance from the Department of Treasury at the federal level and also at the state level of what their position will be or is going to be,” he said.
Trustees voted in May to give $10,000 each to Radtke and township Clerk Judith Kramer, $5,700 to township Treasurer Andy Marek and $1,000 each to trustees Paul Biondo, David Bieganowski, Pat McDonald and Sherry West. The deputy clerk, supervisor and treasurer would also each get $1,000, with four township staff to get $2,500.
Radtke said those payments reflect numerous extra hours the officials put in during the pandemic to serve the public, a task made more difficult by protocols to stop its spread, reacting to dozens of executive orders, and some members of the public that either criticized the township for not doing enough or insisted the disease didn’t exist.
It’s looking increasingly unlikely township elected officials can claim a slice of the $620,000 in total the township expects — the first half of the township’s ARPA funds have not yet arrived, he said.
Amid a trove of online guidance for spending COVID-19 relief money, Michigan Township Association included information on using it for premium pay.
They noted the state constitution bars any after-the-fact compensation to local elected officials for performing their statutory duties.
That same constitutional clause prompted the Shiawassee County prosecutor to flag pandemic bonuses the county commission voted in July to give itself and other county elected officials, the Associated Press reported.
They reversed course soon after, but still face a court challenge over allegations they made the initial decision in closed session — that would violate the state Open Meetings Act.
Bonuses for local government employees are OK, so long as they qualify as “essential workers,” according to Michigan Township Association guidance.
The association cites U.S. Department of Treasury definitions as people who work in critical infrastructure sectors who “regularly perform in person work, interact with others at work, or physically handle items handled by others.”
The association’s guidance noted differing definitions of “essential worker” according to the federal law, versus how the association’s legal counsel interpreted the definitions in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order, caused some confusion. While the association advised townships the governor’s orders included township board members as “critical infrastructure workers,” that advice and the order’s definitions had no bearing on ARPA rules.
The U.S. Department of Treasury doesn’t list elected officials in giving examples of critical infrastructure sectors.
Its guidance states governments can consider other sectors as critical infrastructure eligible to receive pandemic bonuses, “so long as the sectors are considered critical to protect the health and well-being of residents.”
“That last part is a condition that goes beyond general provision of government operations and essential functions or those functions critical to support government operations,” the Michigan Township Association wrote.
Among the sectors that do qualify for pandemic bonuses is public health and safety, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Radtke said the township’s also holding off on paying out pandemic bonuses it previously approved for its emergency services department.
He previously believed those bonuses were proper, but since learned of a section in ARPA that bars bonuses that would increase an employee’s pay to 150 percent of either the county or state average annual wage, whichever is greater.
Emergency services department bonuses were set to range from $750 for firefighter Chris Stark to $8,000 each for Chief Daryl Case and Assistant Chief Mike Stinson. Trustees also approved giving Capt. Doug Fak $7,500, plus $7,000 each to five paramedic or EMT firefighters, $2,000 for a sixth, and $1,000 each to two medical first responder firefighters.
Radtke said he’s hoping trustees know how to proceed by their next meeting in October.
“This is my first pandemic that I’ve had to live through and guide a community through, so I’m learning by the seat of my pants,” he said.
Another of Green Lake Township’s planned expenditure of pandemic relief funds will move ahead, this one for infrastructure projects as the law allows, Radtke said. Trustees committed to spending $200,000 to drill a high-capacity well to feed a fire hydrant near its emergency services department headquarters, and to build a few thousand feet of water main to supply another hydrant.
They opted for a more modest project after learning that expanding the township’s existing water system would require a $1.3 million water tank, for starters.
“We’re just going to extend as much as we can in that regard to lower the ISO rating and to ensure a source of water for our firefighters to use on a building or wild lands or whatever it might be,” he said, referring to the Insurance Services Office rating used to rank an area’s fire protection.
The township also will buy a larger generator to provide backup power to the emergency services department building, allowing it to serve as an emergency shelter during a catastrophe, Radtke said.