Across the country, as first responders working the front lines of pandemic response face heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 themselves, officials in one Rio Grande Valley city have taken that risk into account and have approved giving those first responders hazard pay.
The Donna City Council unanimously approved temporary hazard pay for police officers and firefighters during an emergency meeting Friday. The council also amended an emergency executive order, extending it for an additional 30 days and tightening restrictions on residents.
Donna will offer the hazard pay to 29 patrol officers and three firefighters for a period of six weeks, with an option to renew the special pay for another six weeks. Each of them will receive an additional $700 per month, the council decided.
However, the decision to provide the hazard pay didn’t come without consequence, as the council mulled how to balance an unexpected expenditure they felt was necessary to incur against a public health crisis that offers no clear timeline for resolution.
An initial cost estimate of $32,391 included 10 command officers within the police department, according to City Manager Carlos Yerena. With the council agreeing to provide the hazard pay only to patrol officers, the estimate will be less than that, he said.
Ultimately, the extra pay will come out of the police department’s annual budget after officials said the city’s general fund can’t cover the additional expenditure. “The general fund doesn’t have any money for this, and the chief (of police) said that he could work with getting it out of his budget,” Yerena said.
Yerena urged the council to consider capping the hazard pay after a set time, such as six weeks.
Place 4 Councilman Eloy Avila Jr. agreed, sharing a hopeful sentiment about how long the crisis will last. “Six weeks (of pay) and that’s it. Hopefully this’ll be over in a month,” Avila said.
Concerned that the pandemic may still be an issue beyond that time frame, Place 1 Councilman Oscar Gonzalez urged the council to consider extending the hazard pay on a month-to-month basis instead.
“We’ll do six weeks with a six weeks renewal if we have to,” Mayor Rick Morales said.
The council approved the measure unanimously.
Meanwhile, the council also unanimously approved amendments to the emergency executive order it issued in response to the pandemic.
Echoing restrictions approved in other cities, Donna residents are now ordered to limit the number of people per household entering a business to two. Other restrictions, such as prohibiting social gatherings and shuttering nonessential businesses, remain in effect.
The amended order went into effect Friday and extends for 30 days.