FORNEY, Texas — The Forney City council accepted a federal COVID-19 hazard pay grant for police and firefighters and accepted a budget amendment to provide hazard pay for all other city employees during their Tuesday night meeting.
“The COVID-19 Project federal grant covers hazard pay for the Police and Fire Departments at a rate of $5.00 per hour per employee. The grant covers a 23-week period during the COVID-19 pandemic and reimburses employees for actual hours worked. Total grant funds received for personnel total $360,164.75. There are no matching funds required for this grant,” according to the council’s agenda.
“The grant funds will cover the cost of reimbursement to police and fire employees as well as the City cost for payroll taxes and retirement. Since all employees were considered essential and worked at their City assigned location throughout the 23-week period, this budget amendment includes funds for all employees. The City received additional revenue for FY 20 after the final budget amendment and these funds will be used to cover the cost of including all employees,” the amendment read.
According to meeting documents, the grant provided $360,000 of the $627,375 needed to provide hazard pay to all city employees.
According to a city produced YouTube video released to employees on Friday featuring Forney City Manager Tony Carson, he said that the finance department was able to “find excess funds that were not certified in the budget that allowed the hazard pay benefit to go to all city employees.”
Carson also said that employees will receive their hazard pay as part of their November 20 paycheck.
The hazard pay is welcome news to city employees who were informed at the onset of the pandemic that there would be no raises or cost of living adjustments in next year’s budget and that city police and firefighters would not receive their annual step pay approved by the council in 2017.
In 2017, the council moved to increase the starting salary for both fire and police and approved an annual step pay that would increase by 5% every year. Action as a result of a compensation study the city had paid to be conducted. This was an additional increase from earlier action taken by the council in 2013.
In an internal city email obtained by inForney.com, Carson told city employees on April 27 that due to the pandemic, no city employees could expect a raise.
“Going forward in FY2021, the City will be freezing all salaries at FY2020 levels. The FY2021 budget will be flat and will not have any new capital projects. In the past, the City has utilized carryover balances from the previous year to fund CIP projects. Based on the uncertainty on sales and property tax collections, we are not able to forecast a carryover in 2020 for 2021,” Carson said.
“City employees or their family members complaining that they will not get a wage increase next year will not be well received by residents.,” Carson went on to say.
Just a few months later the city adopted and approved a new budget that confirmed Carson’s warning, but in very different language.
“Thus far, the City of Forney as an organization has been largely unaffected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, at the time of budget development, there is simply not enough information available to determine if that can be expected to continue,” the approved budget reads.
“While no pay increases are budgeted for FY2021, the General Fund budget includes $479,101 to issue a one-time payment to each employee equal to 5% of the employee’s annual salary. These payments will be made in April in order to allow time to evaluate revenue collections and make any necessary adjustments in the event of a revenue shortfall,” the budget says.
“Tax Revenue is the General Fund’s largest source of income and makes up 83% of the revenue collected. Sales tax distributed from the State lags by two months. So we do not know yet what the drop in revenue that occurred months ago will have on our budget,” Carson said in his April email.
According to the latest numbers released by the Texas Comptroller’s office last week, city of Forney sales tax revenues have steadily increased over the past year, rising to a historic $851,641, or a 23.75% increase over last year’s collections of $688,194. Property tax revenues are also expected to be historically high according to the Kaufman County Appraisal district.
Some local law enforcement leaders say that the city manager has more than enough money to provide the step pay for police and fire, and that a one-time payment doesn’t go far enough for first responders in a city that is continuing to see an influx in population and crime.
“The city manager has had no problem making multiple big ticket purchases throughout the pandemic, while telling our police and firefighters that they must wait on the right economic climate for them to give them the step pay they have already agreed to,” says Clint McNear, representative of the Texas Municipal Police Association and a longtime Forney resident. “A one-time payment would be taxed at a higher percentage and doesn’t affect their overall salary nor contribute to their retirement accounts in the same way. A one-time payment is simply that, it should not replace a previously agreed to step increase or cost of living adjustments.”
“While they brag publicly about taking private planes at the city’s expense during a pandemic to visit new development possibilities, it’s apparent that public safety and our first responders are not a priority for our city leadership,” McNear says.
According to city hall sources it would cost the city approximately $400,000 to provide the step pay increases for both the police and fire departments.
“This is a very small investment when it comes to recruiting and retaining the best officers protecting our families,” McNear says.
inForney.com reached out to numerous city employees who declined to comment on this story because of fear of retaliation by city officials, many citing an unofficial policy created by Carson that has threatened immediate termination for any city employee who talks to a member of the press without his consent.
“While the city manager has done his best to censor his police officers, firefighters and other city employees, his actions have not gone unnoticed and the people have a right to know what is at stake.” McNear says. “We must demand that our city leaders be accountable and make public safety a top priority. Rewarding first responders for their work during unprecedented conditions is the first step.”