Faced with a backlash over their refusal last month to award dispatchers retention bonuses for their role during the pandemic, Knox County Commissioners said Aug. 10 they would grant the extra money to the communication workers.

Communications Director Robert Coombs said it “hurt” when communication workers saw other county employees receive retention bonuses but the payments ended when it got to their department.

“They were upset,” Coombs said.

He said retention has been a problem in communications for many years.

Commissioners did not act on the bonuses at the Aug. 10 meeting but assured Coombs they would act at the September meeting.

County Administrator Andrew Hart said the extra weekly payments can be retroactive to when other workers got the bonuses.

On June 30, commissioners approved using some of the county’s $7.7 million in federal aid — known as the American Rescue Plan — for retention bonuses for corrections officers, patrol officers and civil process servers. That consisted of $200 extra per week through the end of 2021.

On July 13, however, commissioners declined when asked to extend those bonuses to employees at Knox County Regional Communications.

Coombs reiterated Aug. 10 that dispatchers were extremely essential employees for the county and were deserving of the retention bonuses.

They were supported in that request, since the original denial, by the Knox County Mutual Aid Association which consists of municipal emergency departments. The Association said in an Aug. 7 letter that the commissioners refusal to approve the retention payments would have the opposite effect in a department that has “a history of low morale and high turnover.”

Commissioner Dorothy Meriwether apologized for any impression she gave that the communication staff was not essential. Meriwether said her thinking changed since the previous month. She said she wished the county took more time when it considered the retention bonuses at the start.

In other actions at the Aug. 10 commissioners meetings, the board voted to approve a contract to Gordon Contracting of Sangerville for $543,000 for replacing five to six security gates around the airport, installing security cameras and replacement of a wooden fence around fuel tanks. The gates will go from manual to automated.

The money will come from the $17.9 million in CARES Act money that the airport received in April 2020.

Another $398,650 contract was approved for runway improvements to George Hall & Sons of Rockland. This will also come from the CARES Act.