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Ga. city approves $100 COVID vaccine incentive, wage increase for FFs

The Augusta Commission voted to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 and awarded bonuses of up to $2,500 to public safety personnel


Photo/Augusta, Georgia Fire/EMA Facebook

Susan McCord
The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Augusta Commission reversed course Thursday, voting 6-2 to implement Vax-up Augusta, a $100 vaccine incentive and education campaign to get residents fully vaccinated.

The package approved by commissioners increases the city’s minimum wage to $15 and awarded bonuses of up to $2,500 to public safety and other personnel.

Eligibility for the $100 gift cards began immediately, said Administrator Odie Donald II, who developed the three-pronged American Rescue Plan program. A person must be fully vaccinated, either with one Johnson and Johnson dose or two of the others, to get the card.

Voting in favor included Commissioner Sean Frantom, who spoke out against the plan’s presentation Tuesday. That day it failed 3-5 with two commissioners absent and one saying he voted wrong.

Commissioner Jordan Johnson was back on the job after a “family matter” that caused him to miss the vote Tuesday. He was joined in support for the package by commissioners Dennis Williams, Bobby Williams, Ben Hasan, Francine Scott and Frantom. Commissioners Brandon Garrett and Sammie Sias missed the meeting and vote.

The two commissioners voting ‘no,” John Clarke and Catherine Smith McKnight, wanted to split the agenda item so they could support the minimum wage hike but not the vaccine incentive. Clarke said he’d walk the streets spreading word about the vaccine but disagreed with the $100 incentive.

“I want everybody in Augusta to know that I wanted to support that $15,” McKnight said.

“I want everybody in this city to be protected against COVID-19 and the variant,” Clarke said. “It’s sad when you have to offer people a $100 to save their life.”

The commission agreed to revisit the vaccine incentive in 90 days to determine if it is effective, something Frantom sought.

Despite the variant-related case surge, only 33% of Augusta residents were fully vaccinated Wednesday, trailing the state rate of 42% according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Thirty-eight percent of Augustans have received at least one dose.

Donald attempted to clarify misconceptions about the package, which addressed what the commission said were top priority — getting shots in arms and compensating law enforcement. The $1.5 million Vax-Up campaign includes no funds for new hires, he said, and funds beyond the $100 incentive will be used for partnerships with health providers, provide security at vaccine sites and outreach.

The bonuses, for which the city awaits final guidance from the Treasury Department, include $2,500 each for all full-time public safety personnel. The Richmond County Coroner’s Office, which was left out, has been added. The total number of public safety workers — a list that includes police, fire, jail, 911 and code enforcement officers — getting the bonus is 1,065, according to a handout.

But the bonuses don’t end there. Fifty-seven part-time public safety personnel are getting a $1,250 bonus. And the remaining 1,385 employees of the consolidated government are getting a $500 bonus and part-time workers, $250, according to Donald’s plan.

The minimum wage increase will help the more than 400 local government workers who garner less than $15 an hour, including custodians, park and kennel workers, clerks, customer service workers, crossing guards and the like. The wage hike would have a sweeping impact on Augusta Fire Department, where many lower-ranking firefighters garner $12 to just under $15 an hour for their approximately 54-hour work weeks.

The package approved Thursday will cost $6.6 million this year and creates an annual expense of $5.6 million in 2022. The city’s first dip into American Rescue Plan funds leaves the city’s balance at $75 million.


(c)2021 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.)