Tarrant County has left the door open to pay county employees and elected officials up to $1,000 to get the COVID-19 vaccine — even though the county commissioners dropped the idea of an incentive for the public.
The commissioners on Tuesday voted on compensation caps for elected county officials, giving one-time lump sum payments to officials including constables, justices of the peace and the commissioners themselves. (The lump sums amounted to 3% of the officials’ salaries, effectively a temporary raise after the commissioners rejected a raise last year.)
But at the bottom of the salary table, there was a footnote that a “one-time vaccination incentive payment of up to $1,000 may be available” for elected officials and county employees. Officials’ spouses and dependents might be eligible, too, the note says.
The county commissioners have not yet discussed a vaccine incentive for employees or officials, and county Judge Glen Whitley said on Wednesday that he didn’t know the footnote had been included in the pay structure document.
“I didn’t realize that was in there,” Whitley said. “Nothing has been done, nothing has been passed at this time, in fact, we haven’t even discussed it yet.”
County administrator G.K. Maenius said the note was simply a “placeholder,” intended to leave the option of an incentive on the table.
“We had to set some footnote in the pay structure so that, if in fact we did give some type of a benefit to people to get their … vaccinations, then we would be able to include our elected officials,” Maenius said. “The goal is to treat elected officials just like any other employee.”
Maenius said he hopes to bring the topic to the commissioners as early as Tuesday’s meeting.
He said he’d be surprised if the commissioners voted for a benefit of a full $1,000, and that they could also discuss awarding extra personal days. A personal day benefit would not apply to elected officials because they do not receive personal days.
But commissioners have already discussed and ultimately moved from an incentive for the public.
At the commissioners’ Sept. 14 meeting, Whitley brought up the idea of giving county residents $50 gift cards for receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Commissioner Roy Brooks indicated support for the idea, but commissioners Gary Fickes, J.D. Johnson and Devan Allen hesitated.
Fickes said at the time that he didn’t believe a $50 incentive would convince residents to take the shot. But he added concerns that residents would begin to expect payment for future vaccines or health behaviors.
“I think it’s bad policy,” Fickes said at the Sept. 14 meeting.
Allen at the time also raised concerns about the effectiveness of an incentive, worrying that $50 wouldn’t be enough money to move the needle.
This week, Allen told the Star-Telegram that she’d hesitate to approve a payment to officials that wasn’t being extended to county residents.
“I don’t see that we would more incentivize an elected official than we would our 2.1 million residents,” Allen said. “I doubt that, just on the face of it, that I could support that.”
Whitley noted that an incentive program for elected officials and employees would likely be much less expensive than a similar program for county residents, even if the residents were paid less per person. The county has about 4,000 employees and more than 2 million residents.
“You don’t look at it on a per-person basis, you look at it on what the total cost is going to be,” Whitley said.
Maenius said the county views elected officials as employees, opening the door for employer benefits. Maenius said the intent of an incentive, if approved, would be to reward everyone who receives the vaccine, whether they were vaccinated before or after an incentive rolled out.
“Those that have been vaccinated, they’ve taken personal responsibility and have worked to keep themselves healthy,” Maenius said. “We want to make sure we keep as many of our county employees healthy as we possibly can.”