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A carrot, not a stick: Pasco wants to increase employee vaccine rates with bonus

County employees who have been vaccinated would receive $500 bonuses.
People line up at a check point in April at the Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution for Pasco County. Tuesday, Pasco County administrator Dan Biles pitched commissioners on an incentive program for employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
People line up at a check point in April at the Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution for Pasco County. Tuesday, Pasco County administrator Dan Biles pitched commissioners on an incentive program for employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Aug. 25
Updated Aug. 25

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County administrator Dan Biles on Tuesday pitched the County Commission on an incentive for employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, saying that not only was it the right thing to do but also cost effective for the county.

During his discussion about the next phase of coronavirus relief dollars, which officials are preparing to send off for federal review next week, he recommended premium pay for employees who had not gotten a bonus in the last round of state bonuses, as some firefighters had.

Unlike governments in other places, he said, Pasco County kept its doors open during the pandemic and employees kept working providing services. He suggested giving $500 bonuses to employees who had been with the county through the start of the pandemic last year and who were still employed, and giving $250 bonuses to employees who came on staff this year and were still employed.

But given that only 50 percent of Pasco’s employees have gotten the vaccine, he also wanted to see that number increase, perhaps up to 70 percent. For those who have the vaccine by a date to be selected later this year, another $500 bonus would be given, under Biles’ proposal.

Pasco County administrator Dan Biles.
Pasco County administrator Dan Biles.

He said that even though only 10 percent of county employees have tested positive, the cost to the county’s health insurance for their claims has topped $3.4 million. Providing an effective means to curb the number of serious cases and cut the county’s future insurance costs “makes good business sense,” Biles said.

Biles pointed out that other governments were offering negative incentives, requiring employees to get vaccinated or lose their jobs, or asking for a choice of being vaccinated or submitting to regular COVID testing. He said he preferred to give employees “the carrot as opposed to the stick.”

The commission approved the overall American Rescue Plan Act proposal which totals $53.8 million in the first batch. Funds will be delivered over several years, and Biles said the total is expected to be $107.6 million.

He divvied up the first allocations in his proposal to three categories. The bonuses were part of a $4 million allocation for public safety and county operations. Other expenses in that category included temporary county services enhancements, cybersecurity updates and reimbursement for other coronavirus efforts.

Pricier proposals totaling $98 million landed in his revenue replacement category for infrastructure. Funding in that category included acquiring the Lindrick utility system, work on the Wesley Chapel Library, the expansion of the county jail and funds for dredging projects. Biles also included a category for health expenditures related to COVID-19.

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“I think it’s a great plan,” said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey. She pushed for a small portion of money going to some business incentives for redevelopment, which other commissioners agreed to support.

Commissioner Jack Mariano pushed for inclusion of needed improvements for Green Key Road. However, Biles said the price tag for that will be higher than the available coronavirus relief category. Biles agreed that other sources could also be considered and that the plan for the funding would adjust over time.

Mariano abstained on voting for the overall project list Biles presented because of an “abundance of caution” since dredging projects were included. Mariano has faced some scrutiny from the Federal Bureau of Investigation for property he owns that could be impacted by future dredging projects.