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Wheeling City Council Mulls $500 COVID-19 Vaccine Incentive for Employees

Photo by Eric Ayres Councilman Dave Palmer speaks during a Finance Committee meeting of Wheeling City Council Tuesday night, when officials proposed a new COVID-19 vaccine incentive program for full-time city employees.

WHEELING — City officials are proposing a financial incentive program for Wheeling municipal employees who receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

The proposal could result in a $500 bonus coming to all full-time, vaccinated city employees, just in time for Christmas.

During a Finance Committee of Council meeting Tuesday night, Councilman Dave Palmer moved to forward the proposal to a future meeting of city council for consideration. Members of the Finance Committee unanimously agreed.

Palmer, chairman of the committee, said about 70% of city employees in Wheeling have already received their vaccinations.

“That goes to show — to me — the employees are concerned about their own health and the health of their coworkers,” said Palmer, who noted that the proposed vaccination incentive program has been in the works for some time now. “I brought this up to staff a while back, and we wanted to look at the financing of this.”

City leaders said the proposed program would not only help provide an incentive for unvaccinated city workers to get vaccinated, but would also reward those who have already taken the initiative to get the shot. Unlike the state of West Virginia’s “Do It For Babydog” incentive program for COVID vaccinations, the city’s proposed program is not a sweepstakes. All vaccinated city employees would get the bonus.

“While the vaccine is a personal choice, I would like to see that we reward the employees who are vaccinated,” Palmer said. “My proposal would be to issue a one-time $500 stipend to employees who are vaccinated by Nov. 30 of 2021.”

The number of full-time employees of the city of Wheeling is around 285.

City leaders said the costs and potential consequences of employees getting sick from the virus greatly outweigh the costs associated with funding this proposed incentive program.

“If we have an unvaccinated person who gets COVID, we have a loss of man hours, and we have sick leave time,” Palmer noted. “If a person has to be hospitalized, then there’s the cost that goes on top of our medical insurance.”

Palmer said $500 to reward and thank employees for keeping everybody safe is well worth the investment.

“Our employees are out in the community all of the time and they’re interacting with other people,” Palmer said. “If you look at it on a cost basis — if every employee was vaccinated, we’re looking at a cost of under $200,000. Our actual cost for people who are vaccinated, we’re probably talking about a total cost of $130,000.”

Officials added that money the city received through the American Rescue Plan — which has strict guidelines for its uses — could be and likely would be targeted as a funding source for this proposed incentive program.

“I do commend you for moving forward with this,” Vice Mayor Chad Thalman told Palmer. “I think it’s important that we do anything we can to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

In other action Tuesday, Wheeling City Council met for a regular bi-monthly meeting, although Mayor Glenn Elliott and Councilman Ty Thorngate were not in attendance. The vice mayor presided over the evening meeting.

Among new pieces of legislation introduced during the meeting was an ordinance authorizing the city manager to spend $400,585 with Savage Construction of Wheeling for the Nailer’s Way extension project. This project is being completed ahead of the Downtown Streetscape Project and will redirect Nailer’s Way — the street that runs between WesBanco Arena and the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center — through the existing arena parking lot and connect with Main Street further south at the point of the16th Street, thus creating a new four-way intersection.

The ordinance received a first reading Tuesday and is expected to be adopted at the next council meeting during the first week of November. Savage Construction was the low bidder on the project. By comparison, the company Jarvis, Downing and Emch had submitted a bid of $442,277 for the work.

Other work being done in advance of the Streetscape project continues to move forward, according to Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron, who noted that the downtown waterline replacement project is currently about 60% complete.

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