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One-time bonuses a cost-effective way to reward staff

April 02, 2013

The City of Hagerstown might just have stumbled across a way to keep its employees happy without soaking the taxpayers who pay public-employee salaries.

Last week the city agreed to a one-time bonus for its full-time employees of $1,000, with $200 going to part-timers. That will cost the city close to $500,000 now, but, compared with a traditional pay raise, will actually save money over time.

As the council says, city employees have been good soldiers through hard times. They haven’t had a raise in three years and have had no cost-of-living adjustment in four.

Awarding cash bonuses, as the city has done previously, lets the employees know they are appreciated, while not locking the city into a continuing expense or impacting future retirement costs.

Bonuses also give the city flexibility — the council can award them in good years without committing to repeat the payments in bad.

It’s not the typical way of doing business, as council members Penny Nigh and Kristin Aleshire noted, but the employees seem to be OK with it. At least, Nigh said, if they are upset, they haven’t said anything to her.

As many employees, public or private, would attest, any sort of financial rewards over the past five years have been scarce. In fact, fewer financial benefits have been the rule.

It appears the economy is improving, and as it does, employers will be able to make commitments for the longer term. But until that day arrives, we believe the city’s action makes sense.

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