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McLean County Board approves pandemic pay for county workers and reimbursements for housing IDOC inmates

County Board in moment of silence
Eric Stock
McLean County Board members observe a moment of silence for County EMA director Bob Clark who died on Thursday.

McLean County government employees will be paid up to $1,000 in bonuses for their work during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The county board during its regular monthly meeting on Thursday approved pandemic pay for more than 800 essential employees who were unable to work remotely during the first year of the pandemic.

The board also approved state reimbursements for housing Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) inmates at the McLean County Jail, discussed the possibility of returning to remote meetings and honored the county’s Emergency Management Agency director who has died.

Pandemic pay

The board voted 19-0 to use federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to pay full-time workers who were deemed essential $1,000 and essential part-time employees $500 for their work from March through December 2020. Board member George Wendt was absent.

“We really thought that now was the time to recognize our workers for the commitment to the county and to their continuity of operations through COVID,” said county administrator Cassy Taylor. The board previously considered a $1,000 incentive for employees who got the COVID-19 vaccine, but delayed a vote in October as the county instead began to explore bonuses for essential workers.

In September, the county approved vaccine bonuses for McLean County Nursing Home employees. Health care workers were already required to undergo weekly COVID testing if they did not receive the vaccine.

Taylor said only those employees who still work for the county will be eligible. The bonuses also do not apply to county board members, elected office holders or department heads.

The county has budgeted about $520,000 for the bonuses this year. Taylor said the county may consider bonuses for those who worked through the pandemic last year, too.

Taylor said the county is exploring other ways to boost COVID vaccinations among county employees as the administration reviews Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling blocking the Biden administration’s COVID vaccine mandate for large employers.

The county approved a COVID vaccine requirement in November that was conditional on it being upheld in the courts. “We are addressing that and reviewing that now and will be coming up with a plan in the near future,” Taylor said.

The Supreme Court upheld vaccine requirements for health care workers, a requirement Illinois already has put in place.

Virtual meetings

Also at the meeting, board member Elizabeth Johnston proposed the board return to virtual meetings for February and possibly March while coronavirus cases have surged due to the omicron variant.

She referenced the absence of county board member Randall Martin, who in his role as a security supervisor at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center, had to leave to assist with the delivery of additional respirators to the hospital, according to county board chair John McIntyre.

County board member Shayna Watchinski also advocated for online-only meetings for now.

“We’re back at a point where it’s worse now than it was when we were in virtual meetings before,” Watchinski said. “I think we really need to think about that.”

McIntyre asked board members to give more feedback and he would take it under consideration.

The board held virtual meetings for more than a year at the start of the pandemic, but resumed in-person meetings last July when coronavirus cases in the county were on the decline. Board members' seats were more spread out to allow for greater social distancing.

The Bloomington City Council, which uses the same meeting space in the Government Center, moved to a hybrid format for its meeting this week.

Jail reimbursement

The board approved an agreement with the IDOC to receive reimbursements of $35 per day for each inmate the county is unable to transfer now that the state agency has stopped taking those inmates because of COVID-19 outbreaks at state prisons, as it did earlier in the pandemic.

Sheriff Jon Sandage estimated housing each IDOC inmate costs the county $73 per day.

“Although this covers less than half of our cost, the Department of Corrections has backed us into a corner,” Sandage said, indicating the state gave him the agreement on Dec. 20 and required approval by Dec. 31.

IDOC received $25 million in COVID relief funds to reimburse county sheriffs for the cost of holding inmates who had been sentenced to state prisons.

EMA director mourned

The board started its meeting by observing a moment of silence for Bob Clark, a 22-year county employee who died Thursday morning after a two-year battle with cancer.

“He was a wonderful colleague and a great guy to work with,” said McIntyre, adding Clark volunteered as a leader with a Boy Scout troop in Bloomington and with other organizations.

Clark started with the county in the recorder’s office before he moved to emergency management where he served as assistant director under Curt Hawk. Clark became director when Hawk retired in 2016.

Clark took medical leave in October 2020. Assistant director Cathy Beck has served as acting director during that time, helping to manage the county’s response to the pandemic and flooding that damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses last spring and summer.

After the meeting, McIntyre recalled working with Clark for 18 consecutive days during the early stages of the pandemic.
“He was so cordial, willing to do everything that we wanted to do,” McIntyre said.

Taylor said the county plans to begin a search to fill the position, but indicated no plans are in place yet.

“We are going to pause for a moment and recognize the loss,” she said.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.