ENCINITAS — City employees who are vaccinated against COVID-19 will now be eligible for a one-time payment after the Encinitas City Council unanimously approved a wellness incentive program during a joint meeting on Sept. 29 with the San Dieguito Water District.
The program, described by the council as “Hero Pay,” will make vaccinated employees eligible for payments of either $2,000 or $2,500.
Workers who were unable to telecommute during the COVID-19 pandemic or had to work in the field during the lockdowns last year will be eligible for $2,500, while all other employees will be eligible for $2,000. Employees must be vaccinated by Oct. 7 to receive the payment.
City Manager Pam Antil previously told The Coast News that approximately $266,000 of the program’s cost will be paid via salary savings (from current vacant positions) in the city’s general fund. The remainder of the program, which is expected to cost an additional $383,500 should every city employee get vaccinated, will be funded with money from the American Rescue Plan.
“The bottom line is the community, regardless of their personal opinions about vaccines, want their public servants, who come into their home, such as building inspectors, paramedics, etc., and come into contact with at public buildings, to be vaccinated,” Antil said.
Encinitas already has a requirement for all city employees, aside from firefighters who are still negotiating with the city on a COVID-19 vaccine policy, to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they have a medical or religious exemption.
According to the city, the current vaccination rate for city employees is around 80%.
Resident Lynne Gibson, who applauded city employees who already received their COVID-19 vaccinations, questioned why the costly program was necessary for the city.
“We’re all in this together and (getting the vaccine) was simply the right thing to do,” Gibson said. “I would be a bit embarrassed for me to take $2,500 just for doing the right thing.”
Gibson also noted the cost of the incentive program could increase based on negotiations with the city’s firefighters.
The city did not discuss negotiations with the Encinitas Fire Department at the joint meeting this week.
During the virtual meeting, a small group of protestors against mandatory vaccines met across the street from City Hall. The demonstrators, organized by a group called the Freeple Society, told The Coast News they were asked to be there by unnamed individuals inside the Encinitas Fire Department.
The group has organized similar protests across the county denouncing mandates for both masks and vaccines approved by the FDA for use against the COVID-19 virus.
Mayor Catherine Blakespear said the wellness incentive is a type of “Hero Pay” for workers who have worked and continue to work in the field during the pandemic.
“Like the maintenance workers who go down into a sewer hole, they have to be close to each other and they have to interact with the public,” Blakespear said. “Wrap it all together. Hero pay, wellness pay, get vaccinated pay. And it is in the best interest of our city that we have all of our city employees vaccinated.”