Wednesday, July 30, 2014

County considers vacation, sick time change

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 7/31/2013

County employees soon could see a reduction in the amount of vacation and sick leave hours they may accrue.

The Franklin County Board of Commissioners examined options regarding the county’s unfunded leave liability Monday morning at its study session.

County employees soon could see a reduction in the amount of vacation and sick leave hours they may accrue.

The Franklin County Board of Commissioners examined options regarding the county’s unfunded leave liability Monday morning at its study session.

Under the current policy, county employees may accrue 720 hours of sick leave and 240 hours of vacation time, Gayla Stofko, Franklin County human resources director, said. The policy causes problems when employees with a substantial amount of sick time and/or vacation time leave their jobs with the county, Stofko said.

“If you have someone who’s been here a long time, they can have 720 hours of leave accrued because they’ve been very healthy,” she said. “In addition, we pay them for up to 240 hours of vacation leave. Depending on whether they’ve used or kept a balance of vacation leave, they can have a payout at the time of separation.”

Depending on the amount accrued, a department could end up paying thousands of dollars to an employee when they leave their position, she said. That amount of money can be a difficult blow to absorb for some departments, she said.

“In smaller departments, you pay out when that employee leaves, and it may be $7,000 or $14,000 and you’ve taken that out of the small department’s budget,” she said. “That puts them in hindrance with filling that position because they’ve got to almost eat away the cost of what they’ve had to pay out for the leave. [Smaller departments] could have a position unfilled for three months until that cost is recovered so you can hire someone and pay them now even at a lower rate depending on how significant the amount of the payout.

 “We budget 2,080 hours [of work] a year for employees,” she said. “But when a person takes vacation time, you’ve budgeted them to work that day so that’s not unfunded, but if they leave and they have 240 hours [accrued], that’s not budgeted for. We’re not expecting them to use 240 hours a year. It’s the same with sick leave.”

The issue of sick and vacation time accrual always is a touchy subject, Stofko said, and she hopes county employees understand the amount of liability the current policy puts on the county.

“There’s value in having tenured employees and we value our employees and, unlike other organizations, we’re fortunate we have large numbers who have been with the county for years — that’s dedication,” she said. “So when you start discussing these policies, it’s going to be received by employees perhaps a little different. It can be touchy for some people when you start discussing [policy changes], but it is a large liability for the county.”

Stofko and Lisa Johnson, Franklin County administrator and county counselor, worked together to come up with five options for commissioners to review and for department heads to share with employees to get feedback, Stofko said. After presenting the options to commissioners Monday morning, Stofko said she thinks the choice has been narrowed down to a combination of two options.

The first option most department heads and employees favored, according to a memo on Monday’s study session agenda, is to reduce the sick leave accrual to 480 hours maximum, pay retirees per the current policy if they retire before July 1, 2014, and compensate other employees upon separation as follows — 10 percent after 15 years of service, 15 percent after 20 years, 20 percent after 25 years; reduce the vacation leave accrual to 160 hours maximum over a period of three years, pay retirees per current policy if they retire prior to July 1, 2014. The option defines retirees as employees who accrue leave, are 65 or older and/or are KPERS/KP&F retirement eligible. KPERS and KP&F retirement eligibility is based on a combination of age and years of service, Stofko said. So although an employee might not be 65, eligible for social security benefits and Medicare, they might be eligible for retirement based on their age and how long they’ve worked for the county, she said.

The second option most department heads and employees favored, Stofko said, was to reduce the sick leave accrual to 480 hours maximum. Any current balance above 480 would have the amount above 480 divided in half and that number of hours would be added to the otherwise grandfathered vacation hours, which are those hours above the new maximum of 160, that must be used within three years. With this option, employees would receive no compensation for accrued but unused sick leave upon separation, according to the memo on the agenda; rather, they would trade their current sick leave hours above the new sick leave maximum of 480 hours for vacation leave hours that must be used within three years just as their vacation hours above the new maximum of 160 hours must be used within three years.

No decision was made at the study session, Stofko said, but the commissioners asked her and Johnson to put together an option that combined the two options to provide the second option with the retirement policy included from the first option. The second option currently does not address the retirement policy.

“We value the employees who have given a lot to the county so it can be sensitive on both sides, and I think the commissioners understand that,” Stofko said. “I think that the commission is going to have to make a decision, and I’d like to think that they come up with [a decision] that is the best [option] of all those considered for both employees and the county.”

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