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County workers get raise and vax incentive

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of September 23, 2021)

County employees who show proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 1 will receive one additional day of vacation time in 2022.

County Commissioners unanimously approved the incentive program last week, just minutes after they voted 5-0 to give county employees a 4 percent raise that takes effect on Oct. 1.

County Administrator Jason Brown said he didn’t know how many of the county’s 900 employees were already vaccinated because its human resources department doesn’t track those numbers.

“We hope this will encourage those who are on the fence about getting vaccinated,” Brown said, adding that the county currently does not track whether its employees are vaccinated.

While the program’s “hard costs” are expected to be minimal – because, in most cases, the additional vacation days won’t require the county to pay for backup employees – Brown said there are positions that demand at least minimal staffing, such as Fire Rescue, lifeguards and water-plant operators.

Backfilling those positions could cost the county up to $230,000, if all 900 employees participated in the program, Brown said, “but we don’t expect everyone to participate, so that would be the ceiling in terms of costs.

“We think it will be less than that.”

Brown said the cost of the vaccination-incentive program could be covered by excess CARES Act funding.

Under the program, fully vaccinated employees will receive 7 ½ to 12 additional vacation hours, depending on their work schedule. Those who work a traditional 40-hour week will get eight hours.

The additional hours will be added to employee vacation balances, beginning with the January 2022 accrual process.

The board’s approval made the voluntary program effective immediately for the county’s non-union employees and allowed Brown’s staff to seek agreements from the Teamsters and International Association of Fire Fighters unions.

Brown said numerous county employees have missed work because of COVID-19 illnesses and quarantines.

Commission Vice Chairman Peter O’Bryan suggested the county staff not keep a running tally of how many employees participate in the program to avoid outing and pressuring those who choose to not get vaccinated.

“I wish everybody could be vaccinated,” O’Bryan said, “but I don’t think we can force people.”

Commission Chairman Joe Flescher said: “We don’t need to get into the grist mill. We don’t want any scarlet letters. We’re just encouraging people to get vaccinated.”

As for the employees’ pay raises, Brown said they will cost about $605,000 and all but $36,000 already has been budgeted, with the balance coming from the county’s reserve fund.