FAIRHOPE – Fairhope employees will receive up to $500 to take the COVID-19 vaccine under a plan approved by the City Council.
The council voted 4-1 Monday, Aug. 9, to pay full-time employees $500 to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. The money will go to employees already vaccinated or who will be vaccinated in upcoming weeks. Part-time employees will receive $250 and seasonal workers will be paid $125.
The money will be paid using federal funds under the American Rescue Plan, Mayor Sherry Sullivan said.
“I hate that the federal government is doling out money this way. I know that our country’s in debt and we’re going to continue to stay in debt if they keep giving out money like this, but again, we are a city that provides essential services, utility service, garbage service, police service, and we’ve been doing that during a pandemic,” Sullivan said. “We’ve had more than 30 employees who have been out in the past month with positive tests or exposure and when you take three to five people out of any department with the growth that Fairhope is experiencing in an already busy department and you take those employees out for 14 days, it’s impossible to continue to provide the level of service that is expected by our citizens.”
She said the vaccine incentive plan and a separate resolution to pay bonuses to employees who worked during the pandemic will cost less than $300,000. While that money is paid with Rescue Plan funds, the cost from sick workers is a direct loss to the city.
“I do want to tell you that COVID is real dollars for us because we are self-insured with our medical insurance,” she said. “A 15-day hospital stay – the city’s going to end up paying for that. All the testing we’re doing. All the employees when they have to go to the doctor, their family members. It really does impact our bottom line and it does cost us money.”
Council President Jack Burrell said the incentive plan allows workers to choose whether they will be vaccinated.
“It’s freedom of choice,” Burrell said. “The department heads that I have spoken to in the city about this, I was concerned about there being a rift between employees that take the vaccine and those that do not and the department heads that I have talked to said that they’ve heard no such talk among their departments and their employees.”
Councilman Corey Martin said eight of his family members have died from COVID. He said vaccinations will prevent other losses.
“This gives people the opportunity, in my opinion, to do the right thing, not for just themselves, but for other people around them. The virus is real and it’s only changing as we continue to hesitate,” Martin said.
This is a reward system and we’re the first ones to do it and I’d say I’m proud of that. Set the bar. I ain’t scared to say it.
Councilman Jimmy Conyers said the plan encourages employees to be vaccinated, but allows them to make their own choice.
“I’m definitely not in favor of a mandatory vaccine, but sometimes you’ve got to put a carrot out there to encourage people to take steps that are really for their benefit and for the community’s benefit,” Conyers said.
Two audience members spoke out against the proposal before the council voted.
Stephanie Durnin said the plan is a misuse of public money. She said that even if the funds come from the federal government, the money was still provided by taxpayers.
“It is not the place of the government to rain money upon those people who participated in a medical procedure,” she said.
Stephanie Hannan said the plan encourages workers to get vaccinations that they might not want to receive.
“Resolution 26 is wrong and verging on coercion,” she said. “Those employees who have decided to decline the experimental COVID-19 injections have done so on their own free choice and will and for their own reasons.”
The council also voted to use American Rescue Plan funds to compensate employees for work done during the COVID-19 outbreak. Under that resolution, full-time employees will receive $500. Part-time and seasonal workers will be paid an additional $250.
Conyers said city employees have overcome a variety of challenges in the last year to continue to provide services to Fairhope residents.
“I think it’s been a very challenging year,” Conyers said. “Right at about the half-way point that this covers, we got hit with a hurricane on top of that. I think our employees have stepped up to the plate and performed very admirably and in a very difficult situation and I just think that this is something that’s included in that funding from the federal government, and I feel like it’s an opportunity for us to do something as a thank you.”