Hopkinsville Mayor Wendell Lynch approved a municipal order approving a COVID-19 vaccination incentive program after the Hopkinsville City Council tied its votes on the matter Tuesday night during a regular city council meeting.
The incentive program would be in partnership between the city of Hopkinsville, the Christian County Health Department and Jennie Stuart to provide an incentive for 1,000 additional individuals within the city to receive a COVID vaccination between Sept. 13 and Oct. 31.
The incentive program would give $100 to the first 1,000 individuals to be newly and fully vaccinated within that time period. Those 1,000 people would become eligible for a raffle for 10 $1,000 cash prizes.
The program would require the city to allocate $110,000 to the program from the city’s American Rescue Plan Funds, which were provided to the city from the Federal government to aid in COVID pandemic relief.
The program was created in order to attempt to reduce the local infection incidence rate and protect lives, according to the municipal order.
CCHD Instructional Design and Marketing Coordinator and Public Information Representative Amanda Sweeney-Brunt shared with the council that the program also aims at raising the county’s vaccination rates, which has been next to last in the state for several months.
Sweeney-Brunt added Tuesday night that vaccinating an additional 1,000 people would bring Christian County out of the bottom five counties for vaccination rates.
Pennyrile Area Development District would also partner with the program to aid in support marketing, outreach and advertising.
Prior to the council discussing the program, five citizens took the opportunity to speak during public comments voicing their disapproval with the program and urged the council to vote against approving an incentive for people to receive a coronavirus vaccine.
Those five individuals each shared that they felt providing an incentive for people to receive the vaccine is coercing and bribing them to do so and felt that receiving the vaccine should be an entirely voluntary choice, despite whether they themselves were for or against receiving a vaccine in general.
Some of those individuals also felt that it would be wrong to use “taxpayer funding” and city money to advocate for and incentivize individuals to get the vaccine and asked the council to remove money as an incentive.
Once the item moved to official council business, some council members also voiced similar views on the incentive program.
Council Member Steve Keel felt that the council should not use city funding to provide incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated and instead proposed that the city should consider allocating additional funding to CCHD and Jennie Stuart for their marketing programs to better advertise and market the vaccines.
Sweeney-Brunt shared with the council after Keel asked that CCHD currently spends roughly $7,200 on marketing a year. Having heard that, Keel said the city could allocate funds to increase that budgeting amount instead of providing cash to individuals as an incentive.
“We’re talking about a $7,200 a year marketing budget — I mean, we could quadruple that budget very easily before we start handing out cash into people’s pockets,” Keel said.
Keel added that the council should consider looking at other ways, including additional marketing, to encourage people to get vaccinated rather than using city funds to pay individuals for receiving a vaccine.
Keel also made a motion to move the issue for further discussion and additional research to the Committee of the Whole, before the council took a vote on the program.
The council ultimately voted 6 to 6 on the matter, leaving the tiebreaker vote to Lynch, who voted against moving the matter to Committee of the Whole and moved to have the council vote on the program Tuesday night.
Council Member Amy Craig stated during the meeting that after several comments were made regarding the funding used for the program as “taxpayer money,” that the funding for the program was not coming from taxpayer dollars but from Federal aid funding.
“The biggest concern that I’m hearing is that we’re using taxpayer money to do this and even Steve (Keel) just mentioned taxpayer money and I just want to make it clear that this is not taxpayer money that’s funding this program,” Craig said.
“I think that’s a huge distinction, because this is coming from American Rescue funds. Our city basically applied for a grant and we got money back and this money has to be spent for certain things.”
Council Member Travis Martin, however, stated that regardless of how the city acquired the funding, any funding that comes into the city, he considers to be taxpayer money and should only be used to benefit taxpayers.
“In my opinion, any money that comes into the city, to us, that belongs to the taxpayers, it doesn’t belong to us,” Martin said. “Some people are saying it’s not taxpayer money, but it is their money. We may not be able to spend it how we want to, but that money belongs to our people.”
After a lengthy discussion between council members with several sharing opinions against the program and for it, the council voted on the program, ultimately ending in a tie.
As the council tied, the tiebreaker vote fell to Lynch, who voted to approve the program.
Lynch stated after his vote that the council was in agreement last year to allocate funds to small businesses to help them during the pandemic and proposed that the city should do the same in order to ensure the safety of the public.
“Why can’t we give a lesser amount — whether we hit 1,000 or whether it falls short, everyone that’s vaccinated will be protected and everyone they go around will be protected,” Lynch said. “I think that is our responsibility to do what we can to move the needle forward.”
In other council business, the council voted to approve the second reading of the Hopkinsville Solid Waste Enterprise trash rates increase 10 to two, with Councilmembers Chuck Crabtree and Alethea West voting against the ordinance.
Under the ordinance, the minimum rates for garbage and trash collection will increase to $25 per month for everyone across the board. However, economy class would gradually transition to the $25 minimum fee over a period of three years.
Those increases mean residences utilizing 95-gallon containers move from $21.59 per month up to $25 and apartments previously rated $14.87 per month will also increase to $25.
As for the economy classification, rates will increase by $4.37 for the next two years, moving from $12.17 to $16.54 and after the following year, from $16.54 to $20.91. In the third year, the minimum trash rate will increase by $4.39 to round up to $25 for economy class.
The economy class utilizes a 65-gallon trash container for a lesser rate, while the other two classes both use a 95-gallon container per residence.
This will be the first trash rate increase HSWE has proposed over the past 15 years, with the last rate change being in 2005.
The council also approved the second reading of the property tax rate ordinance, which proposes the city keep the real property tax as well as the motor vehicle and watercraft property tax at the same rate for 2021 as it was for 2020, which was 23.9 cents per $100 for real property and 25.1 cents per $100 for motor vehicle and watercraft.
It also proposes that the city slightly decrease the personal property tax by 0.1 cents per $100, by changing the rate to 23.9 cents per $100.
Both of those ordinances will take effect Oct. 1, 2021 now that it is passed into law.