At the Casper City Council meeting on Tuesday, the majority of council approved a proposal by city manager Carter Napier which would offer a $250 incentive for city employees to get vaccinated.

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The incentive would also allow for employees to claim an extra $100 for each spouse or dependent that became vaccinated, and an extra $50 if employees get a third booster shot as recommended by the Food and Drug Administration the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The program will go from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, and will apply retroactively to employees who have already been vaccinated, which currently sits at around 36%, with a goal of 65% with the incentive program, and is funded with reimbursements from the Casper-Natrona County Health Department and money from the CARES act.

While council member Steve Cathey was not present for the meeting, the rest of council approved the proposal, with members Lisa Engebretsen and Bruce Knell voting against it.

Knell said that he received many emails from his constituents and members of the Republican committee to say they were against the city using tax payer money for this program, and that the money offered will not be able to convince people who are hesitant to take the vaccine.

Both Knell and Engebretsen said that a big worry they had regarding the incentive was that the city would be spending tax payer money to fund this program.

However Napier said that the program will only be funded with money from the CARES act, which he said the city currently has about $11.6 million in unspent funds, out of an original $13 million that they were given by the federal government, along with reimbursements from the CNCHD.

Council member Kyle Gamroth said that while he agrees with Knell that the money won't change many people's mind on the issue, he has seen research showing that incentives do, when initially offered, get some people who are on the fence to get vaccinated.

Council member Amber Pollock said, and member Jai-Ayla Quest and Vice Mayor Ray Pacheco agreed, that while she appreciates the incentive program, she feels that the city needs to do more to protect its employees.

"I will support it if it is a recommendation of city  staff, but I also think that there are things that need to be reimplemented here, I'm reading our own update on this, and it looks like there are group trainings happening that are potential sources of spread, I haven't seen a mask policy be reimplemented in city buildings...for me there needs to be something more holistic because it's simply not manageable and sustainable, just from a logistical standpoint to have this many employees out due to health reasons."

Quest said that while she doesn't believe the program will reach that many people, it is important to be able to reduce the burden on health care workers.

"I've heard from many people who work in the health care industry, who work at the hospital specifically. They're overrun, they're tired, they're exhausted, and I think we're sitting in a position of leadership here, and we need to be looking out for them, and looking out for them is preventing people from going there really sick."

Knell said he is against mandates, which he acknowledged the incentive program is not, and worries that future program might be mandatory.

"I understand this is voluntary. The girls, my two fellow council members, are looking for more. Which to me sounded like they're looking for mandates. Whether it be masks or whatever it is, and I just want to be very clear that I am absolutely against any mandates."

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