China Grove Town Council approves premium pay bonuses for employees

Published 10:29 pm Tuesday, December 7, 2021

CHINA GROVE — The Town Council on Tuesday night approved $60,000 in premium pay for the town’s full- and part-time employees who worked during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $60,000 will be split among 40 employees, with each receiving a $1 per hour bonus based on the number of hours worked between Dec. 1, 2020 and Nov. 30, 2021. The bonuses will be up to $3,000 for employees, with most receiving between $1,000 and $3,000.

“Our employees stuck in here,” Councilman Steve Stroud said. “They’ve always done a great job but they’ve hung in and in my opinion this is a way to say thank you.”

The funding for the premium pay bonuses will come from the $1.3 million China Grove is slated to receive from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan. The town has already received $672,451 and will receive the other half within the next 12 months.

The vote was 4-1 in favor of approving the premium pay, with new Councilwoman Cheryl Sheets being the only vote against. Sheets said she is concerned that some employees don’t meet the eligibility requirements for using American Rescue Plan funding, which can only be for expenses authorized by the federal government.

China Grove Town Manager Ken Deal said the town has been cautious about using American Rescue Plan funding as it continues to sort through how it can be used. This is the first time China Grove has used the funding for that very reason, but Deal said the requirements for premium pay are clear. Several municipalities in Rowan County have elected to use American Rescue Plan funding for premium pay.

Sheets said she objected to the premium pay because she is specifically worried that every employee slated to receive the bonuses might not be classified as “essential workers” under the government’s guidelines because they might not have interacted with others at work or physically handled items handled by others. Sheets said she believes employees deserve premium pay, especially the town’s police officers and firefighters, but was worried about being found in violation of the rules.

Town Attorney Tom Brooke said he is unsure if every town employee meets that standard. Stroud said it is difficult to delineate exactly, but believes that every town employee interacts with each other as opposed to operating alone in an office.

Councilman Rodney Phillips said he is willing to risk the town having to pay for the bonuses for one or two employees deemed ineligible to ensure that every employee receives the pay.

China Grove employees should expect to receive their premium pay bonuses on Dec. 13.

In other business:

• The council spoke briefly about future plans for the redevelopment of Community Park. A $1.5 million master plan for the park was adopted by the council in September. Council members discussed the possibility of applying for a Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant from the state in the spring to fund the project, but Bringle said the county did not have enough money available in matching funds to justify applying. Council members discussed the possibility of creating a capital fund for park improvements in the future. The idea would be to input money into the fund every year and eventually have enough to match a PARTF grant or pay for the park’s redevelopment.

• The council also spent a few minutes discussing plans to revitalize downtown. Assistant Town Manager Franklin Gover presented members with a plan that would revitalize the downtown by having China Grove become a North Carolina Main Street community. The NC Main Street program gives cities and towns the tools they need to redevelop their downtowns. Sheets said she is in favor of the town participating in the program because it has made a “big impact” for other local towns. Seaford said the council should continue to support downtown businesses. Stroud agreed, but said he would be against using taxpayer dollars to do so. The council did not take any action on the downtown revitalization plan. However, Bringle said he would like to see the town explore the feasibility of adding at least two new sets of handrails on downtown sidewalks in the near future.

• The council approved an amendment to a rezoning request previously approved in August for the Liberty Grove subdivision, which is being planned for the east side of town between U.S. 29, Lentz Road and I-85. Developers intend to construct a subdivision that links homes, townhouses and commercial space via sidewalks into one cohesive neighborhood. The company behind the project wanted to amend its approved rezoning request to add an additional townhome unit, reduce the number of single family homes by 17 and make the commercial space 2 acres instead of 2.8 acres. The changes are prompted by a stream buffer that is needed for the property, which reduces the amount of buildable land. With the amendment approved, Liberty Grove is now planned to have 93 townhomes and 131 single family homes.

• China Grove approved the annexation of a large stretch of land between I-85 and Carson High School that is slated to become the 85 North Logistics Center. The center is being planned by The Silverman Group and is being marketed as a speculative building for a potential client. The center may have an initial tenant lined up and a company considering a relocation to Rowan County would bring 1,000 new jobs and $400 million in construction and equipment investment to the site.