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Rockwood revisits bonus issue

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By The Staff

By CHERYL DUNCAN

cduncan@roanecounty.com

Rockwood city employees are each in line to receive their traditional $125 Christmas bonus.

Some city officials, however, think the gift should be increased — and they were willing to put that to a vote on Monday.

“It’s a hard time right now, and it’s a hard time for the council, too,” Rockwood City Council member Bill Thompson said. “I think we can scratch it up.”

Vice Mayor Peggy Evans agreed and chimed a second to Thompson’s motion to increase the amount by $25 per employee.

“It will show them that we’re thinking about them,” she said during the special-called meeting. Discussion and possible approval of the bonuses were on the meeting’s agenda.

Thompson noted that Kingston city workers are getting a bigger holiday bonus this year in lieu of a pay increase.

Rockwood officials also opted against giving employees a pay raise, but Mayor James Watts pointed out that the city is bearing more of the employees’ health insurance costs, and council earlier this year approved an extra week of vacation to make up the difference.

The city is paying $8,000 to give 64 workers their bonuses this year. An additional $1,750 would have been needed to give the extra money.

“There’s not a lot of fat there,” Watts said about the budget. “It’s certainly a good idea, and I wish we could do it, too.”

The mayor pointed out that the weak economy is hitting the city hard, with a consistent shortfall in revenues.

Council member Harold Ishman noted the economy is also tough on city residents.

“There are people out there that’s not going to have a Christmas because they don’t have a job,” he said. “As a city, we have to operate with our money that’s the best for this community.”

Ray Collett quashed a movement for council members to donate their monthly stipend toward a bonus increase.

“You can donate yours if you want to, but you ain’t touching mine,” he said.

The issue was decided on a 3-3 vote, with Watts casting the tie-breaking vote against. Council member Stan Wassom voted with Peggy Evans and Thompson to approve the increase, with Ishman, Collett and Councilman Dudley Evans opposing them.

“I would rather take that $1,750 and donate it to [Operation] REACH,” said Dudley Evans, referring to the annual campaign for underprivileged children.

“It’s not the year,” he added. “I’m sorry.”