BY DAVID FISHER
DRESDEN (January 12) — During last week’s meeting, members of the county’s Financial Management Committee discussed pay options for Weakley County employees required to remain in quarantine, due to COVID-19 exposure.
Finance Director John Liggett stated federal funding for the Families First Coronavirus Act expired December 31, 2020. He asked if the committee members wish to continue paying their employees, who are off work due to contracting COVID-19, or because they are in quarantine.
Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum, and most of the department heads present, noted employees on quarantine are using sick days, so there is no additional cost to their offices, except for a very few who used up all of their sick days and the county continued to pay them. Part-time employees are not being hired to fill in for them, because existing full-time employees are doing their own jobs, plus the absent employees’ work, as best they can.
Mayor Bynum said measures are in place to curb infections, including requiring courthouse employees to wear masks and maintain a distance of six feet from one another. But they can contract the coronavirus by touching the equipment they share, such as printers.
Highway Supervisor Charles Ross stated, while his department is not paying out additional funds for part-time workers, the absence of his employees due to being quarantined, affects the amount of roadwork that gets done. He noted, out of a total workforce of 40 employees, about 20 workers have contracted COVID-19 or were sent home after being exposed to the virus. Ross said, although most of these absences were at different times, there was one instance when 10 employees were off work at the same time, including himself.
However, part-time employees had to be hired to fill vacant teaching positions. According to Director of Schools Randy Frazier, the Weakley County Board of Education is paying teachers who are off for COVID-19, while bearing the additional cost of paying substitute teachers to take their place. Director Frazier stated it has cost the School Department approximately $150,000 for substitute teachers’ salaries during the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year. He added some school employees have been off multiple times, due to being exposed to COVID-19.
Commissioner Dennis Doster stated if employees being quarantined are not taking the recommended precautions to prevent becoming infected or re-infected, they shouldn’t be paid while off of work.
Mayor Bynum said, when the vaccinations become available, and employees choose not to take them and become infected, they should use their sick days.
Commissioner Doster stated the current situation is very burdensome to the county and if a federal grant package is not approved, it might be necessary to have employees share in bearing some of the burden.
Mayor Bynum and Finance Director Liggett agreed if this were to be done, many people would come to work sick rather than draw half of their pay, which would risk even more people becoming infected.
After thoroughly debating the COVID-19 pay issue, Chairman Larry Taylor suggested “leaving things as they are until the committee consults with the county attorney and make sure whatever they do does not violate any laws.”
Commissioner Doster moved to wait until the end of February to see if another federal grant becomes available. His motion also calls for obtaining relevant expenditure figures from the different departments, consulting with the county attorney to see what the options are, then revisiting the issue when the Financial Management Committee meets in March. Commissioner Pope called for amending the motion to address any problems with employees during this time. When the question was called on the motion, committee members unanimously approved the motion as amended.
In other business, the committee approved the reappointment of Allison Whitledge as Weakley County Attorney without dissent.