Retired Rio Rancho Fire Chief Paul Bearce says goodbye to City Manager Matt Geisel with a handshake during the Rio Rancho Governing Body meeting Thursday night at City Hall. City Attorney Greg Lauer stands in the background. The governing body recognized Bearce for his 20 years of service with the city. Argen Marie Duncan photo.

The Rio Rancho Governing Body approved giving city employees one-time hazard pay for staying on during the pandemic, as well as ongoing vaccination incentives.
The 5-1 vote came at the governing body meeting Thursday night at City Hall. Councilor Jeremy Lenentine cast the dissenting vote.
He said he supported the hazard pay but was concerned the vaccination incentive could create two social classes of employees within city government culture.
“That intent is not to try to create something, but that will be the effect,” he said.
Federal American Rescue Plan Act money is paying for the incentives and most of the hazard pay. The hazard pay, or premium pay, is newly instituted, while city employees have already started receiving $250 incentives for getting COVID-19 vaccines.
City spokeswoman Annemarie Garcia said the city has provided $93,000 in vaccine incentives, with another batch set to be paid this month.
On the vaccination incentives, City Attorney Greg Lauer said the goal was to encourage employees to voluntarily let the city know who was vaccinated, since the information wasn’t available any other way. He said that data is important in risk management.
“There isn’t any intent to create a two-tier system or a second class,” Lauer said.
With the premium pay, employees who worked for the city between March 13, 2020, and June 30, 2021, and who continue to work for the city through this month are eligible for one-time payments of:
• $1,000 for first responders and custodians;
• $500 for other full-time employees; or
• $250 for part-time employees.
“Employee retention is critically important as employees are faced with challenges associated with the ongoing pandemic,” according to city information. “Further, the city is hoping to reduce employee turnover during this period when the region’s employment marketplace is in a state of flux.”
The city will use almost $467,000 of federal ARPA money, plus just more than $86,000 from the city general fund, for the hazard payments and associated payroll taxes.
According to the city, ARPA money can’t be used for payments that would increase a worker’s total wages above 150 percent of the average wage of their state or county, whichever is higher — $77,385 of income last year in Rio Rancho, City Manager Matt Geisel said.
That cap would exclude many employees, especially public-safety workers who chose to put in a lot of overtime last year, he said. Instead, the city will use its general fund money not budgeted for other expenses to provide hazard pay to employees not eligible under the federal income cap.
Almost $12.9 million in ARPA funds is earmarked for Rio Rancho. The city received half this May and is set to get the other half in May 2022, in accordance with federal guidelines.
For the first half of the money, City of Rio Rancho administrators recommend using $5.4 million for water and sewer infrastructure work under the roads the city would reconstruct if a general obligation road bond appears on the city election ballot in March and if voters approve it. The rest of this year’s ARPA money would go to the premium payments, vaccination incentives and a home-repair assistance program for low- to moderate-income residents, under the current proposal.
City administrators recommend using the 2022 half of ARPA money for more water and sewer system work, improvements to the ventilation and climate-control systems at the Rio Rancho Events Center and other facilities, and more business-assistance grants.
According to federal rules, the money can only be used for:
• COVID-19 public-health response;
• Premium pay for workers;
• Addressing negative economic impacts;
• Replacing public-sector revenue loss;
• Water and sewer infrastructure; or
• Broadband infrastructure.