The Inequities of Covid-19 Incentives

Salisbury City Council's Hast Decisions on Covid-19

Recently, current Salisbury, NC City Council representatives voted on offering over a million dollars. in financial bonuses/incentives to get 400+ city employees vaccinated. This is nearly half of the coronavirus relief fund, and the spending decision was announced with only 24 hours for citizens to voice their concerns on the oversized incentives for vaccination. Rushing to a hast financial decision without public comment from those who want to comment, seems to be a  pattern that has formed with this group of council members, a pattern which includes leaving taxpayers out of the conversations on major financial expenditures.

Having scored a windfall of revenue in the Coronavirus Relief funding, Salisbury City Council has now almost immediately turned around and spent around half of the funding on a one-time Covid-19 incentive program for city employees to get vaccinated. While I believe everyone that wants a vaccine should be able to obtain a vaccine, these incentives to motivate look more like bribes to get employees to to take a shot. As long as the vaccine has been available for free, anyone that wanted it, could have already gotten it.

I am no expert on coronavirus or public health, yet I do understand value & return on investment. I see little to no long-term return on investment in any one-time incentive program, that benefits only a small number of people, some of whom may not even live in Salisbury. Not to mention the low target goal of 60%, meaning over a million dollars was appropriated in spending to get 200 city employees vaccinated. 

Inequitable Payout Structures

While not stopping short of rushing to a decision & setting a low goal, in doing so City Council also allowed for a payout structure that offers zero incentive to new hires, and no clear distinction between critical and non-critical workers. It’s my personal stance that every city employee is a critical worker, especially in a time when employment shortages are at some of the highest levels in modern times.

In addition to labeling some employees as non-essential, the “premium pay” also favors full-time and senior employees over the little people, who more than likely need the financial incentive more. Then to add more “incentive” to the prize pool, city employees will also get a bonus for harassing their co-workers into making a health decision, that prior to the incentive was not to get the vaccine at this time. All this to get to 60% vaccination rate from the current rate of 38%, which is not even considered passing in the educational system.

The most inequitable and glaring inefficiency is the lack coronavirus funds going to the other 30,000+ Salisbury residents & taxpayers. No incentives for residents to get vaccinated and improve the overall public safety for everyone. Wouldn’t more vaccinated residents improve the safety of working conditions for our city employees, especially those interacting the most with the community like police & fire? 

Neglecting Fire Department Pay Incentives

To make things even more uncomfortable, City Council tables a public session by the Firefighter’s Union, a group of private citizens that represents firefighters in Salisbury. They have been seeking pay raises for years now. I may not be the biggest public union supporter, but as private citizen’s, taxpayer’s, & employees, they do deserve to be heard by City Council. On the same night that another city employee can present a “premium pay” plan to City Council, the firefighters are told to talk to the City Manager. 

At some point City Council will have to address the issue and/or risk losing its ISO rating because of high employee turnover rates. It doesn’t take much to effect the ISO rating or have an employment shortage right now, especially with the other public health challenges like coronavirus quarantines & inflation pushing some employees to flee for higher paying jobs in other municipalities. Any business owner with a now hiring sign can vouch for how quickly work routines can change when a large portion of your staff turns over. It drastically reduces production and/or their ability to offer services to everyone that needs them.

The irony that City Council passes out “premium pay” for a one-time vaccine incentive program to city employees while at the same time denying private citizens to speak as a Firefighter Union in public comment about pay raises is only typical. Not only was the opportunity to provide long-term pay raises to key resources that improve the overall quality of public health for everyone. In making such a poor decision, Salisbury City Council also tipped their hand at the negotiating table as firefighters now know City Council can get creative with funding when they want to provide pay incentives.

Lost Tax Revenue

In spending half the Covid-19 funding instantly on a one-time vaccine incentive program, City Council also failed to take into account lost tax revenue from major tourism events being cancelled recently like the Cheerwine Festival. All signs pointed to go on the biggest event of the year, and all planning seemed to be projecting some of this tax revenue being collected at these events.

Coupled with major road construction & redesigns to parking in downtown Salisbury coming as well, businesses will be more than disappointed if the city comes up short on tax revenue and raises taxes again. Just as with the “premium pay” decision, everyone that wanted to speak on the downtown construction did not get to speak on how they felt about the redesign of parking spaces & infrastructure. Will the city have a “premium pay” program for businesses that can’t afford vaccine initiative programs?

The most perplexing issue though is that these businesses & business owners have done the right thing during coronavirus. Instead of being incentivized to stay in Salisbury, they’re more than likely going to be paying higher taxes in the years to come thanks to lost tax revenue from our major tourism events. City Council’s lack of oversight on current events unfolding around Covid-19 has resulted in another irresponsible decision by local government leaders being approved.

In Summary

City employees shouldn’t be bribed to make health decisions based on financial gain. Having to dedicate an amount of money so large to 1% of the community for a vaccination that won’t be good without another shot in 6-12 months. They are also only a small part of what makes the community thrive. It’s my understanding that this relief money was to be spent on the community as a whole, and now half is going to just city employees, which numbers around 450 employees when fully staffed or 1% of the Salisbury population.

This is by no means a knock on the hard-working employees of the City of Salisbury, but I think most of them would have preferred a long-term living raise with no strings attached. Everyone wants consistency and security in employment, and employment dependent on health decisions decided by your employer offers neither. Now with lost tax revenue to make up for again, will the city have to raise taxes again to cover operating costs or will they cut human resources?

It just seems as if the City is using the Covid-19 relief fund to give themselves a one-time bonus, versus preparing for the rest of the pandemic. We are at the highest levels of positive cases & hospitalizations, with no end in sight, and now half the relief money is gone at the same time we lose a major tax revenue event. It just seems to me to use that revenue to cover the shortfalls in operating costs without raising taxes, while in the pandemic, is a much more equitable way to appropriate the money. After all, lower taxes benefits everyone.


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