Malheur County employees get bonus pay for work during pandemic

Malheur County Courthouse. (The Enterprise/file)

VALE – More than 100 county employees, including some elected officials, got extra pay last month, a one-time boost for working onsite during the pandemic.

Lorinda DuBois, county administrator, said that 151 employees shared in a total payout of $316,206.

The Malheur County Court in October approved the spending of “premium pay” that uses some of the federal relief money sent to the county earlier this year.

The federal funds “can be used for premium pay for essential workers who did not work from home or remotely,” according to county court minutes. According to federal authorities, the category of essential workers includes “any work done by employees of a state, local or tribal government.”

According to an email DuBois sent to county officials in November, one-time $2,500 payments would go to Malheur County Health Department leaders and frontline workers, members of the county’s Covid task force, and to those working in the Malheur County Jail.

Payments to other employees range from $1,500 to $2,000 for sheriff’s deputies, janitors and other workers.

Some elected officials will get an extra $1,500, except for District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe, who is an employee of the state.

Among the elected officials on the list of recipients is Sheriff Brian Wolfe, who has been a vocal opponent of government-imposed restrictions during the pandemic. He will be paid an extra $2,000. 

Wolfe in August wrote to Gov. Kate Brown, opposing mask and vaccine mandates.

”It’s not the governments job to protect our health. It’s the governments job to protect our Rights, Freedoms, and Liberties,” he wrote.

He also circulated a petition in the county that said “all of the alleged science” espoused by state and federal agencies has “apparent political ideations that our Malheur County population has seen through from the beginning.”

The bonus payments went to those who worked from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021. County offices at the Malheur County Courthouse continued to operate during that, with visitors being checked in.

“The court hopes county employees view the onetime premium pay as something positive during these challenging times,” DuBois said in her email to county officials. 

DuBois said County Judge Dan Joyce and Commissioners Don Hodge and Ron Jacobs won’t get the extra pay. She said other elected officials deserved the bonus.

“They are working positions, not just figureheads and worked in person during the shutdown,” DuBois said in an email to the Enterprise.

Money for the payments comes from the American Rescue Plan Act approved by Congress and signed into law earlier this year. The act allocated $1.9 trillion for Covid relief, including more than $65 billion for county governments.

The U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement then that the relief to local government “will help them cover the costs incurred due responding to the public health emergency and provide support for a recovery – including through assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, aid to impacted industries, and support for essential workers.”

U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, voted against the relief act. He said in a statement in February that the legislation includes “billions upon billions of dollars that have nothing to do with Covid relief…The bottom line is that this bill fails to target the Covid-19 health and economic crisis.”

He said the act did provide funding for elements that he supported, such as another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding for businesses, extended unemployment benefits and vaccine development.

“Notwithstanding the good in this bill, the excess expenditures included are too damaging to our country’s future,” Bentz said.

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