WEST WARWICK — The West Warwick Town Council voted unanimously this week to put some of the town’s federal relief funds toward compensating municipal employees who have worked during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council, according to a resolution it passed Tuesday, “recognize[s] the need to fairly compensate our essential employees who worked tirelessly and heroically” since March of 2020.
Employees will be compensated from American Rescue Plan funds for both 2020 and 2021 under a three-tier system, Town Manager Mark Knott explained, with payment amounts determined based on the nature of their jobs.
First responders and emergency services personnel, who Knott said have worked the most hours and faced the highest risk, will get $1,250 per calendar year, prorated for those who didn’t work the entire year.
Other essential municipal workers would receive $750 per year.
The third tier covers employees who worked disrupted schedules. It was determined that over the entire year those employees on average worked around 79 percent of the time, so they’ll receive 79 percent of the benefit.
“So the ones that did work full time would receive the full amount of that benefit,” Knott said, “and those that didn’t would get a slight reduction. That just seemed like the most fair way to do it.”
The disbursements will amount to around $482,500 over the two years.
The town has been allocated a little over $8.6 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, Knott said last month. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has detailed how those funds may be used, and essential worker pay falls within the acceptable uses.
David Gosselin, council president, said that at the start of the pandemic he and then-town manager Ernie Zmyslinski had discussed the possibility of compensating essential workers — partly it would be hazard pay, he said, but it would also cover any added expenses they faced personally as a result of working during a global health crisis.
Those discussions took place prior to receiving any relief money, so at the time there was no funding available to make those payments to employees.
Councilor Mark Bourget said Tuesday that he was “all for” using some of the relief funds to award checks to essential workers.
“I want to thank employees for their time working through this,” he said, “especially in the beginning, when there were a lot of unknowns.”
Council vice president Maribeth Williamson shared a similar sentiment.
“I do believe this is one of the reasons this funding was given to us, as a matter of fact,” Williamson said. “I think it’s important that we show our gratitude in this fashion.”
Having been elected to the town council after the talks regarding paying essential workers began, Bourget also thanked his fellow councilors and town administrators for looking out for their employees.
“Other communities are not rewarding their first responders,” he said. “I really appreciate what this council has done and what this town is doing for their first responders.”
Knott said that those who worked during 2020 should be getting their checks by the end of this year, and payments to those who worked in 2021 will be made shortly after the new year.