Chester employees to get one-time salary adjustment

CHESTER — City Council on Monday approved a one-time salary adjustment for city employees, following discussions and ethics questions over whether the city can give employees bonuses at the end of the year.

Full-time employees will receive an additional one-time pay of $500, while part-timers will receive an additional $250, all of which are being considered a salary adjustment.

City officials who are elected or appointed — the mayor, city clerk, city solicitor, council members, city municipal judge, street commissioner and fire chief — are not eligible for the money.

The discussion first was brought up during the Nov. 5 council meeting when then-Mayor Rex Cowey said, that according to the state auditor, the city is not allowed to provide end-of-year bonuses or “appreciation pay” to employees under state code, and the most that was allowed was a $25 gift.

Cowey said that based on what other municipalities in the county had done, he believes it is up to council to decide how much to provide the workers.

“If it’s taxpayers’ money, it’s in the budget, and we’ve got the money, then it’s up to council,” Cowey said.

Village Solicitor Michael Adams said during the past month he reviewed ethics opinions through the Attorney General’s Office and state Ethics Commission and learned that based on a 2013 decision, the city could be able to provide an “adjustment,” adding that it could only be called an adjustment and not a bonus and that pay can be made based on longevity.

The ethics commission’s “advice is to generally follow the state constitution, but there is an opinion out there that states that Christmas bonuses are not allowed,” Adams said. “However, you can pay based on longevity, and something that kind of follows the state plan.”

Adams said he found a policy that Weirton used called a “retention incentive pay” where employees are paid additional money based on how long an employee worked in the city.

With Adams’ research on the matter, Councilman Ed Wedgewood motioned for the adjustment to take place, which received unanimous approval.

Also related to wages, Chester Volunteer Fire Chief John Hissam made a request to council to consider increasing the annual wage of the fire chief from $500 per year to $1,000.

“I haven’t had a raise in 25 years,” Hissam said.

Councilman Steve Shuman, however, said council would need to look at other employees’ wages and decide whether they could provide raises. With no other councilman speaking up on the matter, Hissam’s request died for a lack of a motion.