December 18, 2014

Elyria
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Former county auditor agrees to return most of unused sick time payout

Mark R. Stewart / CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Mark R. Stewart / CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

ELYRIA — Former Lorain County Auditor Mark Stewart has agreed to return most of the $18,080 he was paid when he cashed out 1,000 hours of unused sick time earlier this year, county Auditor Craig Snodgrass said Wednesday.

Stewart, who did not return calls seeking comment, worked for four hours on a Saturday in April reviewing cases for the county Board of Revision and then resigned in a letter to Snodgrass saying the work wasn’t what he anticipated.

Stewart earned $72.32 for the four hours he worked and cashed out the 1,000 hours of unused sick time at a rate of $18.08, the same rate of pay he was earning when he made the jump from county employee to elected official in 1995.

Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes said that under county rules that went into effect in 2005, Stewart was only eligible to cash out 250 hours of the 1,208.24 hours in unused sick time left over from his time as a county worker.

County employees who started before Nov. 15, 2005, are eligible to be paid for 1,000 hours, but he said Stewart wasn’t grandfathered in by the rule because of his break in service.

“The way the county policy reads is when you come back you’re considered a new employee,” Innes said.

But Innes also said there was no minimum amount of time Stewart had to be an employee before he could quit and cash out the unused sick time he was entitled to.

Snodgrass said he talked to Stewart after discussing the policy with Innes.

“We’ve just got to figure out what the difference is and he’ll write a check for the difference,” Snodgrass said.

If Stewart does repay the county for 750 hours worth of sick time at a rate of $18.08 an hour, he would owe $13,560.

County Commissioner Ted Kalo, who asked county Prosecutor Dennis Will’s office to review Stewart’s payout after it was reported by The Chronicle-Telegram on Sunday, said he was pleased to learn of Stewart’s plans to return some of the money.

“I’m glad Mark stepped up to do that since he wasn’t supposed to get the money in the first place,” Kalo said.

Stewart’s agreement to repay the county came just hours after Kalo and the other county commissioners blasted the payout — which they said they didn’t know anything about — during their meeting Wednesday.

Commissioner Lori Kokoski said the commissioners had no control over the payout, which came out of a special real estate assessment fund controlled by Snodgrass.

“It just makes the county look bad,” she said.

The commissioners also worried that Stewart’s payout could have a negative impact on their efforts to pass a 0.5 percent temporary sales tax increase that is coupled with a rollback of some property taxes in November. County officials have said that the move is necessary to avoid cuts and deal with capital improvements that have been put off for years by the county’s budget woes.

Lorain National Bank President Dan Klimas sent Kalo and Kokoski an email demanding an explanation after reading about the payout. The commissioners said they fielded numerous other complaints from residents about Stewart’s actions.

“How can you ask the business community and the general population to support a tax increase and waste money like this,” Klimas wrote. “Please provide me an explanation that justifies what appears to be a ‘favor’ being offered to a friend at the expense of taxpayers.”

Snodgrass, who initially denied that Stewart had worked for him when asked in August, was Stewart’s longtime chief deputy before taking over as auditor with Stewart’s backing earlier this year.

Snodgrass has said that he asked his predecessor to do some work for the Board of Revision because he needed the help and Stewart had the necessary expertise to do the work. He said last week that he had expected Stewart to work for far longer than he did.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-714 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.