OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners has put together a large committee to sort through how the county should spend $57 million in relief funds provided by the American Rescue Plan Act. While more studies, debates and votes are in the works, approximately $5 million will be set aside solely for county employees.

The Board of Commissioners voted 7-4 last week to approve “inflation impact payments” to county employees. “Benefitted” employees will receive $5,000 while “non-benefitted” employees will receive $1,000.

According to the meeting minutes, the payments will cost $5,186,079.

Commissioners Joseph Baumann, Roger Bergman, Gregory DeJong, James Holtvluwer, Douglas Zylstra, Philip Kuyers and Board Chair Matthew Fenske voted in support of the measure. Commissioners Allen Dannenberg, Randall Meppelink, Kyle Terpstra and Francisco Garcia voted against it.

Dannenberg raised his concerns during the meeting, saying he “was struggling with (the vote).”

“I think this is a lot of money, that probably most of it could be used for something different,” he said. “I’ve been asking people in my church, different ones, this is the private sector, what are you getting? Are you getting bonuses? Are you getting raises? Most of them are at 2%. There’s no one that I’ve heard yet that is getting 3% and their bonuses for something like this is right around $1,000, not $5,000.”

Dannenberg said he preferred an alternative plan that would provide $1,000 bonuses for five years instead of the one-time $5,000 payout.

The County’s Finance Board has already approved the budget for Fiscal Year 2023, which started Oct. 1. That budget includes a 2% pay raise, however with inflation up 8.2% over the last 12 months, several commissioners felt the raise falls short.

“We brag over the years that we have the best county employees in the State of Michigan. And today we’re looking probably 500 of them in the camera right now and 300 tonight, and say to them, ‘Yeah, you are the best county employees in the State of Michigan, but I’ll be damned if we take care of you,’” DeJong said.

It’s not the first bonus for Ottawa County employees. According to Shay, employees received a 2% wage increase in January 2022 and an additional 2% pay raise and a one-time $2,000 bonus for employees in April.

Garcia cited the previous raises as his reason for voting against the measure.

“There are 297,000 residents out there, whether now or later or their grandkids or their great-grandkids will pay for this somewhere down the line,” Garcia said.

The bonuses will not count as base wages and will not be factored into pay rates going forward.

Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck addressed the board by reading a letter on behalf of the county’s five elected officials that they be exempt from the bonuses. County Administer John Shay noted that they are ineligible for the bonuses because of pay regulations.