December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Commissioner’s proposal to reduce sick time payout has little support

ELYRIA – Lorain County Commissioner Tom Williams found little support Wednesday for his proposal to change how the county pays out departing workers for their unused sick time.

Workers hired before Nov. 15, 2005 are allowed to cash out up to 1,000 hours of unused sick leave, while those hired after that date can cash out up to 250 hours.

Williams wants the county to adopt the state’s minimum standards that calls for workers to be paid out for no more than 240 hours of unused sick time, but in order to get to the 240 hours workers would have to accumulate four times as many hours.

Williams said that over the past five years the county has paid out roughly $1.5 million worth of unused sick time to workers who left county government. Had the county had that policy in place, he said, the figure would have dropped to around $300,000.

CountyAdministrator Jim Cordes called Williams’ proposal a “raw deal” for employees.

Commissioner Lori Kokoski said that the county has already reduced benefits to its workers by increasing their contribution to their health insurance, eliminating paid breaks, freezing wages and extending work hours for supervisors.

“Nobody’s getting rich here,” she said.

Williams has pushed to reform sick leave payouts in the wake of an $18,080 payout made to retired county Auditor Mark Stewart, who returned to county employment for four hours in April before resigning and cashing in 1,000 hours worth of sick leave he had accumulated before he made the transition from county employee to elected official.

The county has since determined that Stewart was considered a new employee when he took the job reviewing files for the countyBoard of Revision in April and was only entitled to be paid for 250 unused sick hours. Stewart is refunding the county $13,560 he was overpaid, most of which he had placed in a deferred compensation program.

Cordes said while other departments and elected officials may allow for employees to retire, cash out sick and vacation balances, and then return to their jobs, a practice known as double-dipping, the commissioners have never allowed anyone to do that. The commissioners had no control over the Stewart payout, he said, because it came from a fund controlled entirely by Stewart’s successor, countyAuditor Craig Snodgrass.

Cordes also said that there are numerous other areas of state law that affect employee vacation and sick hours that the county could adopt, including one that allows workers to cash out up to two weeks of unused vacation time each year at their full rate of pay. The county allows workers to cash out unused vacation time, but only pays out 50 cents for every dollar.

“Do we just adopt the more draconian policies that they have?” Cordes said.

Commissioner Ted Kalo said that the people who accumulate the most sick and vacation time tend to be the most dedicated workers. If they can’t get paid for it, he said, they might just begin taking it, which could lead to staffing shortages that could require overtime from other workers.

Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes said he has accumulated approximately 2,500 hours of unused sick time during his tenure at the county. He also said that the pay rates for prosecutors are so low that his office routinely loses good people to higher paying jobs.

He also said he was tired of being vilified as a welfare recipient just because he works in county government.

Kokoski and Kalo said they are willing to look at the changing the policy, but only if it affects new hires and only if the county reviews the full state standards on sick and vacation leave.

After the meeting, Williams insisted he isn’t against the county workers, saying he was doing his job.

He said the commissioners need to show the public they’re trying to conserve money if they expect voters to pass a 0.5 percent sales tax increase coupled with a rollback on property taxes, on the November ballot. Failure to pass the sales tax hike could mean extensive cuts in county government, the commissioners have said.

“If the sales tax fails it’s going to get ugly and I’m just trying to save the taxpayers money,” Williams said.

 Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.