BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Fannin County first responders, firefighters, and sheriff’s office employees will be receiving hazard pay for their efforts during the pandemic. The commissioners finally reached an understanding on the subject in the November 24, 2020 meeting.
“These EMS workers, sheriff’s department, fire department, they can’t telefix anyone. They have to be right there with them, hands-on, dealing with them absolutely directly,” Post One Earl Johnson stated. “I feel even stronger about it now than our last meeting… If anybody is deserving of the $500 hazard pay, it’s our first responders at this moment.”
Read previous meeting hazard pay article.
Post Two Glenn Patterson agreed with Johnson and added that “you’re never going to have 100 percent support in anything you do. I think this would increase morale and give workers financial security and confidence.
Full and part-time paramedics, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies, jailers, school resource officers, and first responders will receive $500 or $250 depending on their employment status.
“If they’re employed by Fannin County full-time $500, part-time $250,” Johnson clarified. “
However, volunteer firefighters won’t be receiving any hazard pay.
“I think their name says it all. They’re not full-time, not that I don’t appreciate them. I think that was the big sticking point when we first started talking about this. How do you distinguish between, you know, people that are active volunteer firefighters and people that are still volunteer firefighters, but they’re not able to volunteer much…I think it would be hard to be fair with volunteers,” Johnson explained. “No one came up with a definitive way to do it and do it fairly. As of right now, it would be hard to include them in this.”
Patterson added that maybe after the first of the year, the county could consider an incentive for the volunteers.
Elected officials and department heads aren’t eligible to receive hazard pay.
The total amount for the county would be between $50,000 and $65,000. However, the money is reimbursable through the $1.3 million provided to Fannin County through the CARES Act.
Technically, Fannin County will experience less of a financial burden than neighboring counties for hazard pay. For example, Pickens County awarded its first responders $2,000 in hazard pay.
Fannin can’t award pay retroactively, so they must issue it in upcoming pay periods. However, Chairman Stan Helton and Post One Johnson can’t approve anything past December 31.
“If we’re dealing with federal money, I want to make sure that we’re not going to do anything that’s going to put us in a bind for next year. The retroactive pay that was discussed last meeting was a game-changer. This is an important thing that we’re trying to get to a decision, but it’s important stuff here that we don’t mess it up,” Chairman Helton explained.
Ultimately, the board left it up to the financial department to decide it a lump sum or 4-increments based on county employees’ most tax beneficial outcome.
Johnson made the motion, Patterson seconded, and all three commissioners voted in favor of it.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga – After a heated discussion concerning hazard pay for first responders, sheriff’s office, and EMS, the motion to approve $500 in funds failed to receive a vote.
Chairman Stan Helton didn’t accept the motion made by Post One Earl Johnson. The Chairman preferred to wait until a new board took office and let them handle the hazard pay matter.
“Nobody was going to be completely happy…and you’re this close to the end of the year. If someone gets bonus pay now, in a few months, they’ll have to pay taxes on it. After the first of the year, you’ll have a new board, you can sit down…Nobody is disputing the danger and dedication to this stuff,” Helton stated. “I’m through with the hazard pay thing.”
Previously, the Fannin Board of Commissioners had tabled the issue until more information became available or until the new administration took office in January 2021. In a last-minute move, Post Two Glenn Patterson asked for hazard pay and the White Path building to be included in the November meeting.
“They run toward the COVID while we try to stay away from it as much as they can, but when they took that job, they didn’t realize all the extra danger,” Patterson said. “I can’t believe we can’t find an extra $100 a month to give to these guys and ladies.”
Post One Earl Johnson expressed that he wasn’t for or against hazard pay and how he knew it would be a can-of-worms when first discussed months earlier. He wanted to know what the county could do legally before passing a measure.
“I asked Mrs. Doss what we can legally get,” Johnson said, “I don’t want people to misconstrue the fact and think that I don’t want people to get hazard pay. I wanted to find out what we can do legally.”
County Attorney Lynn Doss said, “There are certain categories that we know can be paid, which are first responders, the people that fall under sheriff’s office and emergency management services.”
She felt comfortable with offering hazard pay to that group of people.
“The only decision I’m going to make is one that she feels confident is not going to come back in the future,” Johnson added. He wanted to ensure that the state doesn’t deny the county’s expense.
These individuals can receive hazard pay for their service during COVID-19, and Fannin County can apply to be reimbursed for this expense through the CARES Act. Department heads and elected officials are not eligible.
The earlier amount discussed for the public safety employees was $500 in hazard pay.
“I’m fine with the $500, and I’m fine with paying it to whoever we can legally pay with no future ramifications to this board,” Johnson stated.
Patterson then put the ball in Johnson’s court, saying he would second the motion if Johnson put it forth. Patterson was the commissioner who wanted to discuss the topic. However, Helton never asked for a motion.
“My concern on this hazard pay thing…is I don’t think you’re going to do anything other than create dissension with people. However, if you two gentlemen feel that we need to do $500 for whatever group that you want to make a motion,” Helton asserted. “It’s not an issue of what disserve is, but I feel at this point, I don’t want to make any decisions that don’t have to be made right now. I’m not going to do anything that hurts the new administration.”
Fannin received $1.3 million in CARES Act Funding. According to CFO Robin Gazaway, if the county included hazard pay and the other COVID-19 expenses, it would leave approximately $600,000.
Around 100 people would receive the intended hazard pay.
At a previous meeting, EMA Director Robert Graham and Fire Chief Larry Thomas presented a breakdown of the amount of hazard pay per call for volunteers. The county could choose to include or exclude volunteers.
After another five minutes of discussion, Patterson backed down from making a motion, but Johnson decided to go ahead with the measure.
“I make a motion that we pay $500 to every first responder that the county attorney Lynn Doss outlines are eligible to receive it,” Johnson said.
“With the numbers that have been thrown out here, the kind of expense that is, no. The only motion I want to ask for is one to adjourn this meeting,” Helton finalized
According to the document on the ACCG website, published on August 17, 2020, hazard pay is 100 percent reimbursable for public health and public safety employees. However, hazard pay can’t be retroactively awarded. Therefore, if a county paid a few months of hazardous duty pay to public safety and then discontinued it because of lack of funds or never paid hazardous duty pay because of lack of funds, they can’t retroactively pay it for part or all of the time period.
The document also outlines that “Treasury guidance allows state and local governments to presume that 100 percent of public safety payroll costs are dedicated to COVID-19 response during the eligible spending period to streamline the administrative burden of accounting for expenses.”
Public safety employees include EMS, first responders, firefighters, or locally paid emergency medical personnel.
As for detention center or jailers, ACCG lists: “Yes, Treasury guidance provides that jail and detention center staff performing a substantially different role due to social distancing enforcement or additional sanitizing requirements would be eligible for CRF funding.”
County employees not eligible are administrative staff unless job duties are substantially different. Teleworking isn’t a reimbursable expense.