Hartselle’s $800,000 questionPublished 9:42pm Tuesday, January 28, 2014
30 city employees have more than 400 hours of vacation
The City of Hartselle is looking at ways to lessen its liability on unused vacation time.
Human resources director Melee Laney said 30 city employees have accumulated more than 400 hours or 50 days of vacation time, which has become an $800,000 liability to the city.
Of those 30, eight have more than 800 hours or 100 days of unused vacation, with three of those having more than 1,000 hours and two with more than 1,500 hours or nine months.
Laney said the $800,000 liability is not included in the city’s $10.5 million budget, nearly 70 percent of which is employee salaries and benefits.
“Our auditors always point this out to us every year,” Laney said. “They cannot put it in the written report, but they always talk to me about it every year. We need to do something to lessen our liability.”
Laney said the current system allows employees to accrue an unlimited amount of vacation hours as long as it receives approval from the mayor. She said that every mayor has always approved the vacation accrual.
She recommended that the city revise its vacation benefits policy so that the mayor doesn’t have to make a decision about accrued vacation time.
Laney and city clerk Rita Lee proposed putting a 400-hour limit on accrued vacation time. Any unused vacation that isn’t used after that point would be forfeited.
Any employees that are currently over the limit would get to keep their earned vacation time, but they wouldn’t accrue any additional time. Additional unused vacation time would be forfeited if it wasn’t used by the end of the year.
However, city council members didn’t want to hurt long-time employees who may be counting on the unused vacation time as a part of retirement.
“I don’t want to take that away from them because they have earned it,” said council member Tom Chappell.
Council member Kenny Thompson said the city should offer options on how to pay out the vacation time but not break the city’s budget with a lump sum payout.
“We could pay it out over as long as five years,” Thompson said. “Some of them might prefer to have it paid over a period of time instead of having a lump sum.”
Parks and recreation director Frank Miller, who is one of those employees with a large amount of vacation time, said he would prefer that option as opposed to a converting unused vacation to sick leave, which could be counted in the state retirement system.
“It would take me much longer to gain back the benefit of converting it to sick leave than to take cash,” Miller said. “It wouldn’t have to be a lump sum. It could be paid out over a period of time, just as long as I would get it.”
No action was taken at Tuesday’s meeting, but city council members said they expected to make revisions to the policy in the near future.