City hands out bonuses

Published 10:37 pm Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Suffolk City Council voted Wednesday to hand out $1 million worth of bonuses to city employees, reinstate free bulk trash collection December through June, add a second gang enforcement team and add to the emergency fund with a $3.5 million surplus.

Council’s work session was packed with more than 100 city employees showing support for extra money in their paychecks. Mayor Linda T. Johnson said the employees deserve it.

“They’re earning every cent and more that they make,” Johnson said. “We’re just trying to say ‘Thank you.’”

City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn justified the bonuses by noting the employees have taken on additional responsibilities and streamlined operations since a hiring freeze was instituted in February.

“We think the employees are deserving of this,” Cuffee-Glenn said.

Vice Mayor Curtis Milteer Jr. said bonuses will help keep employee morale up.

“The morale of the employee goes up, productivity goes up also,” Milteer said.

The bonuses will go to all Suffolk employees, excluding elected officials. The extra money, to be paid in December, will be an average of 2.3 percent of each employee’s yearly salary — the percentage to be based on each employee’s most recent performance review. Each employee must have satisfactory performance and be off his probation period (six months for most employees; one year for sworn police officers) to receive the bonus. Part-time employees also are included, city spokeswoman Debbie George said.

Councilman Robert Barclay IV noted the last pay raise for city employees was more than two years ago, in July 2007.

Councilman Charles Parr told the employees gathered during the work session to “Make sure y’all spend all that money in Suffolk,” eliciting laughter from the crowd.

Suffolk Police Sgt. Fred Cunningham, president of the Suffolk Police Officers Association, said he was pleased with Council’s decision on the bonuses, as well as on the addition of a second Neighborhood Enforcement Team dedicated to the northern area of the city.

“I’m extremely pleased with the council’s dedication to public safety,” Cunningham said. The association includes roughly half of all sworn and non-sworn police department personnel.

NET team

The additional police team will allow the police department to take a proactive approach to increased gang activity in the College Drive area, Police Chief Thomas Bennett said. The current NET team is dedicated to gang problems in downtown.

“They do their best to address problems in both areas,” Bennett said of the current team, but noted they are being “stretched thin” by trying to cover North Suffolk problems as well.

The council allocated about $433,000 for five additional police officers and one sergeant to begin the second NET team in January. That cost includes about $293,000 worth of equipment such as cars, weapons and bulletproof vests.

More senior officers will be added to the NET team, Bennett said, and their former positions backfilled with new hires.

Johnson applauded the NET team, saying it will likely prevent long-term gang issues in the North Suffolk area.

Bulk refuse

An extra $550,000 of last year’s surplus will be used to reinstate free bulk refuse collections of eight cubic yards or less, beginning on Dec. 1 and lasting through June 30, 2010. The city tried to institute a fee for bulk collections beginning in July, but the program has met with widespread complaints and a handful of residents who would not pay to have trash removed.

“If we would have known there was going to be a surplus, we’d have never stopped the service,” Parr said in Wednesday’s work session.

The bulk refuse service will essentially return to the way it was before. Each residence is permitted 12 bulk pickups up to eight cubic yards per calendar year. Collections of nine to 16 cubic yards still will require a $50 fee, but were not allowed at all under the old system. Bulk refuse collections will occur on the same day as normal trash collection, and residents do not need to call in advance to coordinate pickup of piles eight cubic yards or less.

Emergency fund

The remainder of the surplus — about $1.5 million — will be used to increase the emergency reserve in the city’s general fund.