Facing a rare split of opinion, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors halted a proposal to offer financial incentives to county workers for getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
The board considered a plan that would have provided a $500 bonus to the employees’ 457(b) deferred compensation plan account to those who provide proof that they have received the COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 16.
While there was mixed support between with supervisors, the board decided to take no action and table the item with the option to bring it back at another meeting.
Board Chair Steve Brandau summed up the board’s decision nicely: “For clarity, the County of Fresno punted on this item, and we will hypothetically take it back on some undisclosed time in the future.”
If the county had moved ahead with the plan and every county employee took advantage of the offer, the total cost was estimated to cost $3.75 million, which would have been covered by the county’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) funds.
Supervisor Nathan Magsig was a proponent of the idea based on the cost-benefit of testing expenses versus the incentive.
Each test that unvaccinated employees are required to take per state orders costs $78, which comes from the county’s ARPA funds. It would only take six weeks of weekly testing for testing costs to surpass the incentive.
“I do see benefits from the vaccine, but I believe people need to make that choice themselves. But I also believe in providing incentives. I think it would be wrong of us to specifically penalize individuals, take the baseline where they are at and then somehow take from them because they choose to not receive the vaccine, but in this case we’re providing an incentive,” Magsig said.
“And to me, the more people here at Fresno County that don’t get the vaccine [who] work for us, that’s less money we can use for infrastructure projects. So for me this is something I can support based upon cost-benefit analysis, the fact that this is an incentive, and looking at the rules that are coming down from the state and federal government.”
That thought of being able to utilize ARPA funds for local infrastructure needs instead of the incentive was a driving factor for Supervisor Brian Pacheco.
“I’m going to take the ARPA money and give it to people to incentivize them to get a shot instead of build a park, and I just have an issue with that,” Pacheco said. “I just do.”
For Brandau, his opposition to the plan was based on philosophical reasons.
“What I’ve seen is that this item has become very divisive in our community. That division is more costly than anything we have yet to gain by adding a few more percentage points,” Brandau said.
“A government that can win you over with $500 can just as easily take away something from you as well. So I don’t support it philosophically. In my mind it’s actually not a massive amount of money. In my mind it probably would encourage some to get vaccinated, but philosophically I’m opposed to using the money for incentives and penalties as well.”
Ultimately, Supervisor Sal Quintero suggested that the board postpone a vote and take up the idea at a future date, which the other supervisors agreed to do, seeing the plan as a lose-lose situation, as Pacheco addressed.
“This is a no-win situation,” Pacheco said. “Either way we’re going to spend ARPA money to incentivize, or we’re going to spend them to test. And I do believe with Supervisor Magsgig, over the long period of time it is going to cost us more money to test because that’s going to be infinite, and we’re going to run out. But again, when the state and federal government makes these rules, then they need to see the ramifications of their rules.”