By Andrea Cordle
Grove City Editor
The city of Grove City is now offering incentives to its employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
At the Oct. 4 meeting, Grove City Council unanimously approved legislation to appropriate $300,000 to enact a voluntary vaccination incentive program. The program is for city employees and individuals who reside with that employee.
According to the legislation, any fully vaccinated city employee shall receive a one-time bonus of $1,000. Any fully vaccinated employee would also receive a one-time bonus of $100 for each fully vaccinated individual that permanently lives with that employee. The employees who choose to participate must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 17, 2021 and provide a copy of their vaccination card to their human resources coordinator.
“Our main goal is the health, safety, and welfare of our community,” said Grove City Administrator Chuck Boso.
According to Boso, less than half of Grove City employees are vaccinated. He reported that 127 employees have either tested positive for COVID-19 or had come into contact with someone who tested positive.
The city of Grove City has approximately 265 employees.
Boso said just in September, there were 126 days of absences due to the virus and 119 of those were unvaccinated employees. Seven were vaccinated. According to the city administrator, 84 days off came from the police department, including dispatchers, 25 cases came from the service department, 10 cases were reported in the building department, and seven cases came from the IT department.
“This time off has resulted in overtime for other individuals,” said Boso. “It puts stress on our work force and causes fatigue. Something needs to be done. If we do nothing, the numbers will get worse.”
Grove City Law Director Stephen Smith was asked about the impact of the legislation on those with a religious exemption. Smith said there are those who cannot get the vaccine for various reasons, be it a medical condition or religious beliefs, but said because it is a voluntary program, it would not subject the city to any liability.
Smith also clarified that the vaccination incentive program is just for city employees and is the same as a taxable benefit. Council members and the mayor are not eligible for the program, as they are elected officials, not city employees.
Though all council members voted in favor of the program, some did share their concerns.
Councilman Randy Holt said he was happy the program was voluntary and not mandatory. Councilman Ted Berry said he supported the program but does not want employees to feel shamed for choosing not to receive the vaccine. Aaron Schlabach said he was concerned that the incentive would do little to encourage people to get the vaccine; instead, it would just act as a congratulations to those who have already received it.
Council president Christine Houk said this incentive program for employees is a way for the city to stand in solidarity with the health care community.
“We are in a position to be a role model and I’m glad we are capitalizing on that,” she said.
Councilman Roby Schottke said he would like city leaders to consider extending some type of incentive program to city residents.
Grove City resident Jennifer Rotruck spoke out against the measure.
“I am not happy my tax dollars are being used to coerce people into doing something they may not want to do,” she said.
The city is using federal relief funds to pay for the incentive program.
According to Smith, this is a “proper expenditure” of the relief dollars. If the city does not utilize the funds, the money would have to be returned to the federal government.
Grove City Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage said the objective is to protect city staff.
“If we don’t have employees to operate, it affects the whole city,” said Stage.