Shots in arms equal pay boost for county employees

Pinellas County commissioners approved paying employees a $750 incentive to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

LARGO — The decision was not unanimous Oct. 26. But, the majority of Pinellas County commissioners said yes to a request to give employees a pay incentive as a reward for getting a COVID-19 vaccination.

Commission Chair Dave Eggers voted no as did Commissioner Kathleen Peters.

Employees have until Nov. 8 to show proof they are fully vaccinated. The $750 incentive will be included in their Nov. 24 paycheck. The incentive applies to employees who report to the County Commission, constitutional officers and appointing authorities.

Proof of vaccination would be a copy of the COVID-19 vaccination card showing the employee has received two doses of Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson.

Employees unable to get vaccinated by the deadline due to receiving monoclonal antibody treatments within the last 90 days need to provide verification of receiving the treatment by Nov. 8. Once they are fully vaccinated, they need to provide proof and they will receive the incentive on their next payday.

County Administrator Barry Burton brought up the idea of using a cash incentive to get more employees vaccinated on Sept. 16. He said he had talked to the constitutional officers, including the sheriff and they all favored using the incentive as a way to get more employees vaccinated.

At that time, the county was struggling to maintain its workforce with so many employees off due to COVID. Burton said up to one-third of employees was out in some areas.

Burton told commissioners he preferred giving an incentive as opposed to making it a mandate, adding that he didn’t consider using either method until the numbers spiked, making it difficult to get work done with so many out sick.

On Oct. 26, Burton told commissioners that the possibility of receiving an incentive had already boosted the number of employees getting vaccinated by about 5% and by even more at the sheriff’s office. He said some had planned to get vaccinated anyway, but the incentive gave them reason to go ahead and get it done.

“The incentive has helped with staffing,” he said.

Fully vaccinated employees also may be eligible to receive up to 80 hours of paid leave from Sept. 20-Dec. 18 if they test positive for COVID-19 or if they must quarantine because of exposure to coronavirus. Paid leave applies to positions that cannot work from home and those who are too sick to work from home.

The estimated cost of the incentives is $4 million and will come from the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds. The county will receive more than $94.69 million in local fiscal recovery program funds. Burton said the incentive would be an eligible use of the money.

The commission will consider how to spend the remainder of the funds with an estimated $75 million going for capital projects at future work sessions and regular meetings.

Eggers voted no to using the money to pay for the incentives because the commission had not yet “had a conversation” on how best to spend the American Rescue Plan Act funds. He objects to giving an incentive to what he says is 50% to 60% of employees who had already gotten a vaccination. He doesn’t think it is right to use an “enticement of dollars” to get others to change their minds about getting the shot.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.