The city of Mobile has yet to enact hazard pay for its first responders during the COVID-19 crisis, despite neighboring municipalities paying time and a half to police and firefighters.
On the same day Baldwin County and Prichard joined Mobile County in enacting hazard pay for first responders, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson told reporters at a press conference he’s been in conversation about it but doesn’t feel it’s the right time to “pull the trigger.”
At issue for Stimpson is the amount of lost revenue facing the city.
Unlike county governments, which receive a majority of revenue from property taxes, the city receives a majority of its revenue from sales taxes, Stimpson said. Because sales tax revenue has taken the greatest hit during a time when restaurants can’t seat customers and many retail stores are closed, Stimpson argued that cities in the state are expected to take a bigger revenue hit than the counties.
“I’ve spoken with the mayors of the state’s 10 biggest cities and only one had thought about it,” he said. “It’s probably more now.”
In Mobile, more specifically, city coffers are now expected to take a $12 million-per-month hit, up from projections of a $7.4 million-per-month loss. While Stimpson has helped build a $63 million reserve fund in the city budget, he said he has to weigh that against the possibility of a natural disaster. A concern other cities to the north might not have to deal with.
“If there’s a hurricane, you go into the reserve first and hope to be reimbursed by (the Federal Emergency Management Agency),” he said. “I don’t know if FEMA will reimburse for hazard pay.”
If the city starts to dip into the reserve fund at a clip of $12 million per month, Stimpson said, the reserve fund would be depleted in about five months, Stimpson said.
Stimpson said the city has a plan in place for when officials decide to enact hazard pay and his office has had “preliminary discussions” with members of the Mobile City Council about it.
“We do not think today is the day to pull the trigger on that,” he said.
Stimpson said he’s hopeful that Congress could release funds for hazard pay in a second round of stimulus funding as part of its broader response to COVID-19 around the country.
As city officials have continued to discuss hazard pay, 895 police officers and firefighters have been tested for COVID-19 via a blood test that detects its antibodies. Of those 895 tests, 38 found a positive presence of the antibodies, meaning the patient currently has an active infection or recently had it. Of the 38 who tested positive for the antibodies, four have confirmed active COVID-19 infections, according to Executive Director of Public Safety James Barber.
Those four first responders have been quarantined as the city awaits the results of 11 swab tests on additional personnel. Although there are still tests outstanding, Stimpson said he looked at the rate of infection among first responders as a positive for the city.
In essence, he said that four out of nearly 900 tested were found to have the active infection. He predicted that the infection rate would be less than 1 percent among first responders, which he said he hopes bodes well for the city’s population at large.
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