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Newton County funding new position to help EMA distribute vaccine
Government also giving employees one-time 'pandemic incentive' payment
Newton County Emergency Management Agency Director Jody Nolan briefs representatives from various agencies at the Newton County Fire Services Headquarters ahead of a snow storm in a past year. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County is giving its employees a one-time payment for working during the COVID-19 pandemic and has added a new position to its emergency management agency to help distribute a vaccine when it becomes available.

County commissioners recently voted to give a $300 “pandemic incentive” payment to each of its employees hired before March 2020 after more sales tax than anticipated had come into county coffers recently.

The payment “is a pandemic incentive that was used to recognize the hard work and sacrifice for employees who worked to keep things going and our community safe during this time of public health emergency,” said County Manager Lloyd Kerr.

It will be given to employees hired after March on a prorated basis, Kerr said. 

County officials will use $225,000 from its Local Option Sales Tax fund to pay for the incentive after revenues came in 19% higher than budgeted in recent months, said county finance director Brittany White.

“They’ve been coming in really strong,” she said.

Collections of the sales tax — which counties use to allow them to decrease property taxes — had been budgeted at a lower amount because of economic uncertainty due to COVID-19, White said. 

The county also recently received almost $600,000 after an audit of an undisclosed corporation resulted in the state government sending money originally coded as state sales tax back to the county government, White said.

The incentive is in addition to a $300 Christmas bonus each employee already has received this year, an area newspaper reported.

Commissioners also voted to fund a new employee for the county’s Emergency Management Agency after its director explained the agency would help the Georgia Department of Public Health distribute any COVID-19 vaccine the state receives.

County commissioners had not anticipated the position in their 2021 budget. However, they voted to use $9,495 in contingency funds for new employees and combine it with about $19,500 the Emergency Management Agency had left over in its budget for a total of $28,969 to fund the position for six months, White said.

Newton County EMA Director Jody Nolan said his agency would assist the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments in distributing a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available in Newton County.

The Capitol Beat News Bureau reported Tuesday Georgia could have “several hundred thousand doses” of the vaccines in the next week or so for distribution to health-care workers and elderly care facilities.

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said the doses will roll out immediately once approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this month but will not be enough to cover all of Georgia’s hospital workers and nursing-home staff and residents, the news bureau reported.

More rounds of the vaccine will arrive depending on how fast pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna produce it, as well as how the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed distribution program plans to divide up the doses, Toomey said at a news conference Tuesday.

Nolan said Newton County EMA has two full-time employees and one part-timer. It will typically use employees from other county departments temporarily to help it respond to natural disasters, he said.

He said he is in the early stages of filling the new position but wants it to continue to be funded in future EMA budgets. 

Nolan also said he wants the new employee to be certified by the state’s Peace Office Standards and Training Council (POST) to help provide security for the vaccines the Newton County agency will help distribute.

POST is the primary agency that provides law enforcement officers with certification that many agencies require in Georgia. 

The public health department reported a total of 4,206 Newton County COVID-19 cases had been reported by Tuesday, Dec. 8. Almost one in eight of those cases were reported in the last two weeks, according to the department. 

It also reported 111 Newton County residents had died, with 357 hospitalized because of the disease.