BERRYVILLE — Clarke County 911 dispatchers will be compensated for placing themselves at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A recent $52,425 allocation by the Clarke County Board of Supervisors will go toward providing the 12 Emergency Communications Center employees “hazard pay” alongside sheriff’s deputies, jail security officers and paid fire/rescue personnel. The allocation covers payroll taxes as well as money paid directly to the employees.
Hazard pay is intended to show gratitude to personnel who continue to serve the public during the pandemic, placing themselves at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus and perhaps jeopardizing their family members’ health as well as their own.
As of Wednesday, Clarke County had reported a total of 185 COVID-19 cases — including 19 hospitalizations and three deaths — since the pandemic began early this year, Virginia Department of Health statistics show. Dispatchers have answered many calls for emergency medical services for patients with, or suspected of having, the illness.
The positive coronavirus cases have included two emergency services workers, said County Administrator Chris Boies. Yet others have been quarantined because of potential exposures, he said.
Dispatchers aren’t in direct contact with the public, but they work in close quarters. Sheriff Tony Roper and Chief Deputy Travis Sumption consider them to be first-responders, like deputies, and believe they should be treated equally.
They “come to work every day to perform the core functions needed to address public safety in the county,” Sumption wrote in a memorandum to Boies. “Without them, fire and rescue and law enforcement would not have been able to perform their functions.”
“Due to the type of work they do” with special telecommunications equipment, Sumption wrote, “they did not have the option to work from home, or close their work area as other employees of the county,” he continued.
“Dispatchers are a critical part of the public safety system” and therefore deserve hazard pay, too, said county Emergency Services Director Brian Lichty.
Providing it to them “seems to be the fair thing to do,” said supervisors Chairman David Weiss, who represents the Buckmarsh District.
About $167,000 that the county received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is being put toward hazard pay for public safety employees. That includes roughly $31,000 requested by the Berryville Police Department for its officers, according to Boies.
However, CARES money cannot be used to give dispatchers hazard pay, officials have said.
In providing hazard pay, dispatchers will be “getting the same thing” as other emergency services workers, Boies said. It will just be from “a different pot of money” — county funds instead of federal dollars.
Full-time employees are receiving $100 per week worked between March 1 and Dec. 31. Part-time employees are getting $50 per week worked during the same time period.
The March through October amounts have been paid, Boies said, adding that November and December amounts will be paid near the end of the year.
An administrative assistant at the sheriff’s office is not set to receive any hazard pay, Boies said.
“I need to talk with the sheriff,” he said, to see if Roper can determine that she contributed to the COVID-19 battle in some way so she can receive a share.
In December, the supervisors’ Finance Committee will be approached about whether general county employees are eligible to receive hazard pay for keeping day-to-day government operations going amid the pandemic, Boies added.