A COVID-19 resolution first adopted by Milledgeville City Council shortly after the worldwide pandemic hit last year has been extended.
The extension of the resolution was unanimously approved during last Tuesday night’s city council meeting.
The resolution allows for the extension of federally-funded benefits until the end of the city's current fiscal year budget.
It allows for an extension of the deadline for paid leave entitlements as authorized by the Family’s First Coronavirus Response Act.
City Alderman Walter Reynolds made a motion to approve the extension. The motion was seconded by City Alderwoman Dr. Collinda Lee.
When Mayor Mary Parham-Copelan called for a vote, the other four city alder members also supported the measure: Mayor Pro-Tem Denise Shinholster, and members Jeanette Walden, Richard Mullins and Steve Chambers.
City Manager Hank Griffeth discussed the resolution during last week’s work session.
Griffeth said while it was certainly not the way he would have liked, he planned to ask city council to consider amending the city council agenda to pass a resolution that they had received earlier in the day regarding the extension of the COVID-19 staff pay.
“Most of you are probably aware that — and I actually shared this with you all about a week ago, I guess — the first Corona Virus Relief Act, which was one of the pieces that came about because of COVID, was a piece of federal legislation that provided for various levels of pay for staff members based on about one of about six situations,” Griffeth explained. “The biggest one that we dealt with here at the city being the ones where somebody either had a positive diagnosis of COVID or they were quarantining based on the fact that they had been exposed, or they were the caregiver of someone who had had a positive diagnosis.”
Griffeth said the federal legislation provided a mandate for paying people for two weeks, 100 percent of their pay rate.
“We were doing that based on the federal mandate, and doing it out of the Phase One Cares Act money that we received,” Griffeth said.
He pointed out that when the city first received the Cares Act funds city officials anticipated that they would be receiving three phases of such funding.
“We got Phase One and did everything that we needed city to do to get them and then the governor chose to take the funds that we anticipated through. Phase Two and Phase Three — not just from us, obviously, but from all over the state to prop up the unemployment insurance fund, so we did not get those.”
Griffeth said unfortunately, before such had happened, the city already had made a list of items that they were going to purchase with the additional funding from the other two phases.
The city manager took members of city council along with the mayor back to Phase One funding to explain the way funding was implemented.
Griffeth said it involved a number of city employees who had received full or partial emergency paid leave or essential paid leave as referred to by the First Family’s Act.
“This is not to say that we had 54 positive cases of COVID in our staff, but 54 of our staff members, as of last Friday, had received some portion of their emergency pay or essential pay — either partial or the full two weeks” Griffeth said.
He said they took that number and then reached out to other city managers elsewhere to gauge what they were doing with the situation.
As of last Tuesday afternoon (the day of the city council meeting), Griffeth said he heard back from four cities. Each indicated that they had continued to benefit at the city’s expense through the first quarter.
“We had one city that said they had replenished the employees’, as they called it, COVID bucket, with 40 hours through the end of calendar year 2021,” Griffeth said.
Several other cities indicated they were allowing employees to use whatever First Family Leave Act they had as of Dec. 31, 2020, to use it through Jan. 31, 2021, and they would then evaluate another possible extension as they got closer to that date, he said.
“Interesting enough, two cities responded … that they plan to begin to differentiate by those employees who were eligible to receive the vaccine and if an employee was eligible to receive the vaccine, but refused to receive the vaccine, their absences would be treated as any other illness,” Griffeth said.
The city manager said based on everything that he had read thus far — at least early on — would have a difficult time withstanding in a court of law when it comes to requiring an employee to take the vaccine.
“So, I looked at the number that we had received either full or partial pay leave and what other cities were doing, and then I started looking at our expenditures of our Phase One Cares Act money that we received,” Griffeth said, noting the city of Milledgeville received $979,111 through the Phase One funding.
As of last Tuesday, the city had spent a portion of those funds for deep-cleaning, PPE supplies, and some overtime funding to essential departments for covering shifts when they had staff members out with COVID.
The city manager said he also had estimated some future planned expenditures, including cleaning equipment and chemicals.
Griffeth said he calculated that figure at $50,000 because the city was now in the process of purchasing its own hand fogger and a fogging cart that will be used for cleaning purposes.
He also anticipates spending about $25,000 for PPE supplies and additional overtime, and additional COVID pay, totaling $325,000, he said.
Griffeth recommended that the city continue to allow employees to use whatever First Family Coronavirus Relief Act hours and remaining essential paid relief that they had as of Dec. 31, 2020 when it expired from a federal mandate standpoint, and that they be allowed to do that through the current city budget year of June 30, 2021.
The city manager said he recommended going through the city’s current budget cycle because “quite frankly, I think we’re still going to be dealing with COVID in June.”