Siler City to consider vaccine incentives due to 42% employee vaccination rate

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SILER CITY — Siler City Commissioners discussed the possibility of having a vaccine incentive program for town employees on Jan. 18.

Town Manager Roy Lynch told commissioners that he, along with Nancy Darden, the town’s HR director and finance director, had been discussing the possibility of proposing an incentive pay program for Siler City town employees to receive COVID-19 vaccines. The proposed incentive would be funded from the approximately $2.41 million Siler City received from the American Rescue Plan passed in 2021.

“Many of the local governments have already put these into play within their organizations,” Lynch told the board, “and it has helped their rates as a percentage go up.”

According to Lynch, 42% of Siler City town employees have received their COVID-19 vaccine by the board meeting on Jan. 18. This number is significantly lower than the county government’s employee vaccination rate, which was closer to 80%.

“We are currently at a much lower rate than many of the municipalities and counties around us,” Lynch said. “There are probably many [municipalities] that are at least in the mid-60s to lower 80s, and some jumped from the 40s to the 70s just based on the incentive pay.”

The Omicron surge is another motivator for an incentive. Lynch said since the new variant’s emergence, town staff have seen an unprecedented amount of COVID-related absences, resulting in staffing issues.

“Since the beginning of January, we have had 21 COVID-related cases with people not necessarily testing positive, but with COVID issues such as exposure,” Lynch said. “We are trying to stay on top of it with our COVID-19 protocols.”

Under Siler City’s current COVID-19 protocols, employees must contact the HR director if they find out they have had a possible exposure to COVID-19 or a positive COVID-19 test. If a fully vaccinated employee is exposed to COVID, they can return to work as long as they do not become symptomatic, which follows CDC guidance. Unvaccinated employees with a COVID exposure have to quarantine, which can result in increased absences among staff.

“I think this is one of those issues we are always going to have to deal with,” Lynch said. “We want to try to take steps now to at least give people an incentive to be vaccinated and let them take it. It would still be their choice, but it has helped in other areas to increase their rates.”

Lynch said the incentive pay program would most likely consist of a one-time bonus paycheck after employees complete their COVID-19 vaccinations. Employees who have already received their vaccines would also qualify for the incentive bonus, he said.

Lynch also said there would be a deadline for when employees would have to be vaccinated to receive the bonus, but those details have not been finalized yet.

“There would be a time window in place for people to get inoculated because there’s still a month of waiting if you do the two shots,” he said. “We’ll have to incorporate that into whatever our timeline is going to look like.”

Lynch told the News + Record that Darden, the H.R. director, is still looking at various options for the incentive program. Town staff hope to propose an incentive pay for vaccinated employees during one of the upcoming meetings in February.

“(We’re) still gathering information, and we don’t have any idea of what it looks like or what our insurance premiums are going to be and if they’re going to be tied to any of the vaccination issues that have taken place over the last year,” Lynch said.

Other business

Commissioners met with members of the Immigrant Advisory Committee during their regular session meeting on Jan. 18. Siler City commissioners unanimously approved the creation of the committee on June 21 to identify the needs of the immigrant community in Siler City and address them. The board formally appointed the members of the committee during the its Nov. 15 meeting.

“We’ve asked the Immigrant Advisory Committee to come to the board meeting to introduce themselves so that the board would know who they are and the committee could meet each of the board members,” Lynch said.

Members of the committee were virtually present through the meeting Zoom call. President Hannia Benitez introduced her colleagues and thanked commissioners for installing the immigrant advisory board.

“We all wanted to give you a face to a name you guys have seen,” Benitez said. “We are very honored to be able to come before you guys tonight to say a quick thank you for the trust you guys have vested in us to form this initial committee.”

To learn more about the members of the committee, you can read the News + Record’s breakdown from last week.

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com.

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