Incentive for city employees approved following executive session
City of Union utility customers will see a break in their utility bills for the first two months of the new year thanks to City Council’s actions on Tuesday night. Council voted to allocate $750,000 from the city’s first installment of American Rescue Plan Act funds for a utility bill credit for COVID relief. Residential customers living in Union County will automatically receive a $50 credit to their utility bills in January and February. There will be no application needed. Gas customers in Spartanburg County will have to go through an application process to receive the credit, as will commercial customers. The original proposal was for a single $50 credit, which would have used $375,000 of the money. Council members talked about the need to give back to the customers, and Tommy Anthony made the motion to give $100 in utility bill credits, with Ricky Todd Harris seconding. The vote passed unanimously. Anthony then made a motion, which Harris seconded, to split the credit between the months of January and February, in which customers typically have higher heating costs. The motion passed unanimously.
The city will receive a total of $3.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding. On October 29, they received the first half of the allocation, $1.9 million. They have to report on the uses of the money on a regular basis, with the first report due April 30th. Finance Director Laura Hembree proposed that additional ARP money should go toward reimbursing city expenses regarding water and sewer projects, which is another allowable use of the funding. Hembree said doing that will help stabilize the utility fund for the fiscal year. The city can only recoup expenses from March 3, 2021 onward, and Hembree said that since that date, the city has paid out $214,000 in sewer and water projects, with more to be done. Hembree noted the money can be spent over the course of five years, so more money could be recouped in future years if the funds remain available. No motion was made on that proposal, so it is unclear if that plan will go forward or if it will be brought before council again later for a vote.
Following an executive session, council unanimously voted to allocate another $111,000 or so in December to provide an incentive to city employees for their work during the pandemic. That is another allowable use of the ARP funds. Full-time city employees will receive $1000, while part-time and probationary employees will receive $500. Council members were quick to note that the bonus will not apply to them, as they are elected officials, but only to city employees.