Summit County approves one-time ‘pandemic pay’ for all county employees with CARES Act funds
Summit County is using about $140,000 in federal COVID-relief funds for one-time hazard pay to employees, a move officials say rewards the hard work and sacrifice county workers have made during the pandemic.
“The purpose of these payments is to acknowledge the contributions County employees have made to the COVID-19 response effort and the stress, sacrifice and physical hardship they have endured during the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing to provide critical services to the Summit County community,” Deputy County Manager Janna Young wrote in a staff report accompanying the update to the Summit County Council on Monday.
Young has spearheaded the county’s efforts to distribute federal COVID-relief funds that were appropriated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, in the early days of the pandemic.
The county was slated to receive about $6 million in federal funding for pandemic-related costs. About $2 million of that has gone to local small businesses, nonprofits and individual county residents through grant programs, $500,000 has gone to vaccine management and preparation and another $500,000 has gone to the county’s three school districts.
Other initiatives have included expanded COVID-19 testing, establishing an in-house contact tracing team at the Summit County Health Department and distributing personal protective equipment to local businesses.
The staff report says the Summit County Sheriff’s Office introduced the idea to use federal funds for one-time payments to employees. The county expanded the program to include all employees, rather than just frontline workers, and introduced a tiered system where those employees who often interact with members of the public receive $600, while other employees receive $300.
Those in the first tier include sheriff’s deputies, housekeepers, nurses and building inspectors, employees “who have been working in uncontrolled and often unprotected conditions during this pandemic, or have had frequent face-to-face contact with the public during their workday,” according to the staff report. Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright explained that agencies across the country were using CARES Act money for hazard pay for their employees.
“The idea behind the hazard pay is first responders and essential employees don’t have a choice of whether to come to work or not, have contact with many people, and subject themselves and their families to high risk of contracting/spreading COVID-19,” Wright wrote in an email to The Park Record. “… Our frontline workers have been dedicated and put themselves and their families at risk throughout this pandemic — we believe providing a one-time hazard payment with the federal dollars will show them how truly they are appreciated for what they’ve done throughout this difficult time.”
The County Council unanimously supported the initiative on Monday.
Council Chair Doug Clyde and Councilor Kim Carson thanked county employees for their work during the pandemic, which has stretched resources thin. The county has paused new hiring and held open about two dozen positions, meaning the same or more work is being done by fewer employees. Some, like librarians and county historian Joe Frazier, have shifted job functions to support the emergency operations center.
The county also suspended cost-of-living salary increases and merit raises for many county employees after the pandemic hit.
County staffers have apparently had broad latitude to dole out the federal funds, and Young has provided periodic updates to the council. At times, councilors have requested changes to the timing and scope of certain projects, like purchasing personal protective equipment earlier than was initially planned, but they have largely supported the initiatives.
The staff report said the hazard pay program cost around $138,000. Young clarified that the payments were coming from the county’s general fund and that the CARES Act money would be used to reimburse other COVID-related costs the county had incurred.
Young referred to this program as “pandemic pay” rather than hazard pay, as CARES Act guidelines only allow for hazard pay for employees who experienced physical hardship from a known case of COVID-19.
She said the county studied several similar programs throughout the state in considering this plan, and one from the East Coast.
Salt Lake City pursued a similar project, giving employees classified as first responders $1,000 in CARES Act pay, a mayor’s office spokesperson confirmed.
The county faced an initial deadline of Nov. 30 to spend its CARES Act funds, but Young said the county has received an extension until the end of the year to spend about $1.2 million.
Summit County Manager Tom Fisher indicated that the hazard pay proposal had been through several rounds of vetting between his office, employees and the budget committee, and said that it had received due scrutiny.
He also indicated the burden on employees would likely remain for the coming months.
Clyde echoed Fisher’s comments, commending the job employees have done under exacting circumstances.
“This is a huge effort that some of our employees specifically put forward. Obviously, it’s probably not something that you can ascribe a precise dollar amount to, but here we are given the budgets that we have and the flexibility that we have. And I think these are appropriate things for our employees, obviously, just to acknowledge the fact that this has been hard.”
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