COVINGTON, Ga. — To boost morale and help avoid potential turnover during “a time of civil unrest,” the Covington City Council approved a one-time monetary hazard incentive payment Wednesday night for public safety employees in the amount of $625 per employee.
During the special-called meeting, City Manager Scott Andrews first suggested the city provide a $500 incentive to its employees.
“As COVID has continued on and the demonstrations have continued … and the risk for COVID continues to increase as some of us sit here in masks,” Andrews said. “So basically, I’ve listened to my experts, and at this point I want to do something for them. When I say do something for them, that’s for their continuous efforts and everything that they are going to continue to do for us. Because during all of this, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take a toll on morale. I think this is a gesture that would go a long way.”
However, Councilman Don Floyd had one issue with the incentive: taxes.
“I think it’s well overdue,” he said. “I really appreciate their efforts… I know federal tax will take a toll on anything, but is there any way that it can be made up somehow … because I don’t want them getting a bonus, and then after federal taxes they get $150.”
After discussion, the council opted to increase the incentive to $625 so it would equate to approximately $500 after taxes.
Police Chief Stacey Cotton said the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on his officers and believed the incentive was a good idea.
“When my guys started asking me the question if we could get a bonus like everyone else, I [told] my guys, ‘Our job is to be there … no matter what the situation is,” Cotton said. “But then I had an officer look at me and say, ‘Well my family didn’t sign on for that. And I have to go home and expose them to all of it.’ That’s what I think is the issue. It’s not the duty that they swore to do on the front end … this is the one where we — we might take the stress home, we might take the sadness home if something bad happens, but … there could be [children or other family members with health issues] that that public safety official might expose [COVID-19] to. That’s their fear.”
Cotton said it could cost the police department, and likely other departments as well, a lot more money to hire and train new officers than it would to fund the incentives to help retain existing officers.
After a motion was made, the council approved the $625 incentive by a vote of 4-1 (Councilwoman Fleeta Baggett abstained due to difficulty hearing the discussion via telephone; Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams was absent.)
The incentive will be paid to approximately 100 employees, including fire department employees of battalion chief rank and below; police department employees of lieutenant rank and below and the “crew” at Covington-Newton County 911, totaling roughly $62,500.
After the meeting, Fire Chief Jeremy Holmes said he was thankful that the city saw the need to fund the incentives for its first responders.
“So I think from being one of the first departments to have to actually isolate its firefighters from exposure and seeing their concerns about the family and children — that was their concern. Their concern wasn’t about their job and helping the patients. It was about bringing it back to their families, and that’s real. And that’s something that we’ve made a priority, and obviously from their vote, it shows that we have the council’s support in that as well,”Holmes said.
Mayor Steve Horton said there isn’t a dollar value anyone could put on what the public safety employees go through each day, especially under todays conditions. But he hopes the incentive is a gesture that can be appreciated.
“Traditional public safety employees are our first line of defense,” he said. “And they run against the problems that all of us would rather not go up against — night or day. And given the nature of COVID-19 in particular … they don’t get to pick and choose the calls they go to.
“When you do that, personally, it starts to weigh on you,” Horton continued. “It’s an unseen enemy. You can face someone with a gun … but you can’t see COVID-19. And you couple that with the civil unrest — and I’m not speaking against civil unrest because everyone has the right to protest and have their voices heard — but [officers] are working under stressful conditions already… We see law enforcement officers across the country handing in their notices daily. We’ve got good people that we want to keep.”