The Rio Rancho Governing Body recently approved giving city employees one-time hazard pay for staying on during the pandemic, as well as ongoing vaccination incentives.
The 5-1 vote came at the governing body meeting Sept. 9 at City Hall.
Councilor Jeremy Lenentine cast the dissenting vote, saying he supported the hazard pay but was concerned the vaccination incentive could create two social classes of employees within city government culture.
“That intent is not to try to create something, but that will be the effect,” he said.
Federal American Rescue Plan Act money is paying for the incentives and most of the hazard pay. The hazard pay, or premium pay, is newly instituted, while city employees have already started receiving $250 incentives for getting COVID-19 vaccines.
City spokeswoman Annemarie Garcia said the city has provided $93,000 in vaccine incentives, with another batch set to be paid this month.
On the vaccination incentives, City Attorney Greg Lauer said the goal was to encourage employees to voluntarily let the city know who was vaccinated, since the information wasn’t available any other way. He said that data is important in risk management.
“There isn’t any intent to create a two-tier system or a second class,” Lauer said.
With the premium pay, employees who worked for the city between March 13, 2020, and June 30, 2021, and who continue to work for the city through this month are eligible for one-time payments of $1,000 for first responders and custodians; $500 for other full-time employees; or $250 for part-time employees.
“Employee retention is critically important as employees are faced with challenges associated with the ongoing pandemic,” according to city information. “Further, the city is hoping to reduce employee turnover during this period when the region’s employment marketplace is in a state of flux.”
The city will use almost $467,000 of federal ARPA money, plus just more than $86,000 from the city general fund, for the hazard payments and associated payroll taxes.
According to the city, ARPA money can’t be used for payments that would increase a worker’s total wages above 150% of the average wage of their state or county, whichever is higher – $77,385 of income last year in Rio Rancho, City Manager Matt Geisel said.
That cap would exclude many employees, especially public-safety workers who chose to put in a lot of overtime last year, he said. Instead, the city will use its general fund money not budgeted for other expenses to provide hazard pay to employees not eligible under the federal income cap.
Almost $12.9 million in ARPA funds is earmarked for Rio Rancho. The city received half this May and is set to get the other half in May 2022, in accordance with federal guidelines.
Retired Rio Rancho Fire Chief Paul Bearce says goodbye to City Manager Matt Geisel during the Rio Rancho Governing Body meeting earlier this month at City Hall. The governing body recognized Bearce for his 20 years of service with the city.