New Castle County Council Tuesday approved a $5 million use of federal CARES Act money for a hazard pay program that's a drastically reduced version of a proposal made back in April by County Executive Matt Meyer.
Council voted 8-5 to approve the measure, sponsored by Council President Karen Hartley-Nagle, who pushed for its approval earlier in the day during a finance committee meeting.
"That's who we're taking care of, the people that are taking care of us," said Hartley-Nagle. "They're looking out for us and our neighbors, our friends, our family."
During that same committee meeting, 12th District Councilman Bill Bell lauded the work of New Castle County's first responders during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"They've been out there since the very beginning," said Bell. "The fire and EMS service, to no one's surprise, rose to the challenge."
Several council members however questioned the process of hazard pay disbursement, eligibility requirements and the number of those eligible.
Hartley-Nagle said she reached out to the state Attorney General's office to make sure they were supportive of the measure, and incorporated their guidance in the legislation.
The debate at the finance committee meeting led AFSCME Local 3911 President Saul Polish to believe the measure would fail, and as a result he made an impassioned plea prior to the council vote.
He said not approving it was 'a slap in the face' to the medics and 911 operators he represents.
"My people are out there doing it every single day," said Polish. "Paramedics cannot stay home and treat people."
District 4 Councilman Penrose Hollins indicated in the committee meeting he would not support the measure, but then voted for it during the council session. Following the vote, Hollins admitted he made a mistake and asked for his vote to be reversed, but that request was denied due to procedural rules, resulting in the 8-5 tally.
Councilmembers Bell, Carter, Durham, Hartley-Nagle, Hollins, Sheldon, Tackett, Woods voted "yes" on the measure while Councilmembers Cartier, Diller, Kilpatrick, Smiley, Street voted "no."
Meyer had originally proposed what was termed 'hero's pay' back in April, offering $10,000 per eligible first responder working during the COVID-19 crisis as part of a $15 million funding package.
New Castle County, due to its population size, applied independently of the state for CARES Act relief money from the federal government. It received $323 million, which so far has been spent on a variety of initiatives, including standing up weekly test sites in the county, hunger relief, and distance learning.
"This proposal is much less clear," said Meyer, "It's $5 million, so it's a third of the money we were proposing."
Meyer reiterated a statement to WDEL he originally made back in May about the need to take care of front line workers during a public health crisis.
"You want to make sure that they're treated well in a crisis like this when they're putting themselves at risk, and that they know they are being treated well.
Meyer didn't indicate whether he'd sign the measure.
"We're going to look at it. We're going to see if some of the legal requirements have changed since then. We're going to see what can be done and what can't be done, and deal with it."
WDEL's Amy Cherry contributed to this story.