Commissioners prepare to finalize authority for employee payments

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Osage County commissioners July 19 postponed final approval of one-time $2,500 payments to county employees. The county board voted 3-0 to work on wording for the authorization prior to its July 26 meeting.

The commissioners voted, 3-0, on July 6 in favor of the payments, with a view toward potentially signing a resolution July 12. The version of the payment proposal that the board adopted included language about taxes and retirement being withheld from the payments. That language was later changed.

In their July 12 meeting, commissioners did not sign a resolution. Questions had arisen about whether the county needed to wait for some form of approval from the office of the state Auditor and Inspector to make the payments out of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. There was also a question about whether elected officials should receive $2,500 payments. District Attorney Mike Fisher and Assistant District Attorney Ashley Kane expressed the view that the payments to employees would be legal, and that no further approval from the office of the Auditor and Inspector was necessary.

In the county board’s July 19 meeting, the agenda included potential approvals for one-time $2,500 payments to full-time county employees as of July 1, as well as for one-time $2,500 payments to elected officials. District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones requested that the agenda items be tabled for a week, while further work was done on them. The board voted unanimously to table the items.

The agenda for the Monday, July 26 meeting, which became available July 23, indicated an opportunity for final approval of the payments to full-time employees as of July 1. The agenda item said that no tax or retirement contributions would be withheld from the payments.

The agenda for July 26 did not reflect any further consideration for possible $2,500 payments to elected officials, and Jones told the Journal-Capital that the commissioners did not support making payments to elected officials.

County Assessor Ed Quinton on July 19 advocated in favor of $2,500 payments to elected officials. Quinton argued to the commissioners that such payments would be appropriate in view of the leadership contribution of elected officials during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The one thing I wanted to say was, without guidance and leadership they wouldn’t have been able to go through what they went through,” Quinton said.

“It’s fine with me, either way,” Quinton added, “but it wouldn’t have happened without us leading that and making sure to get it done.”

The county board was also scheduled July 26 to potentially sign a resolution giving final authorization for the appropriation of $250,000 to the Osage County Industrial Trust Authority for the making of small business loans of about $25,000 or less. The board initially voted, 3-0, in favor of this appropriation on July 6, but had not yet signed a resolution on the subject as of last week.

Jerry Butterbaugh, a member of the Industrial Trust Authority board, and Nona Roach, administrative assistant for the Authority, said last week that an audit of the organization will be conducted, and its processes for loan applications and monitoring of loan repayments will be beefed up. The $250,000 of ARPA funds will become a revolving loan pool.