Saco municipal employees will receive 3 1/2 additional  vacation days this year in recognition of their work through the coronavirus pandemic. City Hall was to be closed for the full week starting Dec. 28, and re-open Monday, Jan. 4. Tammy Wells Photo

Saco City Hall will be closed to the public for the week beginning Dec. 28, reopening on Jan 4.

City Administrator Bryna Kaenrath said City Hall would normally close at noon on New Year’s Eve and be closed on New Year’s Day but this year, citing the difficulties of working through the pandemic, employees will be given 3 1/2 extra paid vacation days.

Not everyone will be able to take the extra vacation days that week — essential employees like police, fire and EMS and others scheduled to work will have to take the days off another time, said Kaenrath. As well, he said people in some other departments will also be working, and will take the 3 1/2 extra vacation days at another time — employees are able to roll over some vacation time from one year to the next.

Biddeford’s nonunion municipal workers will get an extra day off this year in appreciation of their work during the pandemic. City Hall was to be closed Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Tammy Wells Photo

“To thank all city employees for their hard work and dedication through the pandemic of 2020 we will be closing City Hall and non-essential departments from Dec. 28-31,” said Kaenrath in recent update to the City Council. “To our staff, please know that as a city we have fared very well considering everything we have grappled with over the past year and we should all be extremely proud of what we have accomplished. We have truly demonstrated our grit, resilience and commitment to Saco. For that, I could not be more proud to work with you every day and count you among my friends and colleagues. In the tough times is when true strength and character really shine.”

The proposal to give the extra vacation days was made by him and Mayor William Doyle, Kaenrath said, and they sought feedback from the City Council, though the measure doesn’t require a vote.

There is no budget impact to the city, he said.

“It’s not an actual expense on our books,” Kaenrath said.

A calculation of the value of the vacation days was not immediately available.

Some services, like the issuance of building permits, won’t be available with City Hall closed that week, but people can conduct some business, like registering their cars, online, Kaenrath said.

In Biddeford, City Hall closed at noon on Christmas Eve and was closed Christmas Day, and reopened on Monday, Dec. 28. Biddeford City Hall is scheduled to be closed all day New Year’s Eve Day and New Year’s Day.

Non-union personnel were given the New Year’s Eve holiday through a narrow 4-3 vote of the City Council on Dec. 1, “in recognition of their ‘above and beyond’ attitude and work ethic shown through the year in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the City Council order granting the day.

City Manager James Bennett told the council that union employees had received 2.25 to 2.5 percent wage increases in their contracts, which the city asked them to defer until Jan. 1. For nonunion employees, he said, normally a merit increase is considered, but this year, given that there was a small amount of money available, Bennett said, the personnel committee suspended any merit increase, and gave a 1.5 percent cost of living raise, a one-time $250 cash bonus and redirected some money to those on the lower end of the pay scale.

Granting an extra paid day off is not in the purview of the personnel committee, so the measure came to City Council.

Council President John McCurry said he planned to vote against the measure.

“It sets the wrong precedent,” said McCurry, at the Dec. 1. meeting, even though the paid day it is a one-time event. He asked how much holiday and sick time employees received.

Bennett said employees get 11.5 or 12.5 holidays, and that nonunion personnel earn one day a month sick time. After one year, they are eligible for two weeks vacation.

“The taxpayers are paying these bills and their bosses are probably not given an extra day,” said McCurry, in part. “We’re giving quite a bit now.”

Councilor Michael Ready said he hasn’t supported this sort of action before, but supported the proposal 100 percent. “What we’ve asked staff to do this year, the extra burden they have to carry when delivering the services … has been troublesome,” said Ready. “This is for a small group of nonunion employees … this is a small piece of appreciation we can show.”

Councilor Marc Lessard said he believed the appreciation should be financial.

Councilor Norman Belanger pointed out it doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything except a lost day of service.

“It’s a very small token of appreciation; who knows how long this pandemic will last,” said Councilor Doris Ortiz.

Voting in favor were Councilors Belanger, Ortiz, Ready and Stephen St. Cyr. Opposed were Councilors McCurry, Lessard and Robert Quattrone. Councilors William Emhiser and Amy Clearwater were absent.

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