According to Charlevoix County Clerk Cherie Browe, the current taxpayer liability for qualifying Charlevoix County employees who each have 520 hours of accrued sick time is between $300,000 and $400,000.
County employees are allowed to accrue up to 65 sick days – which a physically well employee may do in five years time.
“I don’t know what that total is, but I don’t want that much sick time on the books,” said Charlevoix County Commissioner and member of the Charlevoix County Personnel/Internal Government Committee Ron Reinhardt (R-District 3) when asked about the figures in a telephone interview.
Currently employees are allowed to use those hours during their tenure or up to 25 percent of up to 520 hours of accrued sick time upon retirement.
Browe said that system has been in place for longer than the 24 years she has worked for the county.
However, the board is considering a proposal to offer a cash-out of up to .50 cents on the dollar for up to 80 hours of sick time, Reinhardt said.
The sick time and comp time issues were recently discussed by the full board.
“This has actually been sitting in committee at personnel (and internal government committee) for quite some time,” said Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen at the board’s regular April 27, meeting. “We discussed it up and down and a few other situations.”
According to Christensen, the county allows employees to accrue one-and-a-half hours of paid off-time for every hour of overtime they work. This is called compensation or “comp” time in lieu of overtime pay.
“The sheriff’s department has used it for years,” Christensen said. “It’s actually worked into their contract, it’s so commonplace.”
Christensen said the sheriff’s office employees are not allowed to accrue sick time from year to year.
“The issue that I and some of the other personnel committee members have with this is it is an unfunded liability that hangs out there for the county,” Christensen said. “We’ve made requests on two separate occasions now to have all comp hours reported to the county so we can get a handle on that unaccounted for liability truly is.”
He added, “If we eliminate the availability of comp time we have to pay overtime, but then what this does is it not only makes the county government more transparent but it makes the individual department heads accountable for the amount of money to which they budget for overtime and whether they are willing to stay within the budgeted amount.”
Comp and sick time are not currently figured into county’s annual budgets.
Kevin Shepard, Charlevoix County Human Resources Coordinator, suggested the board allow comp time to be used within any two week pay period to avoid employees banking large amounts of paid time off.
Christensen said salaried employees are not eligible for comp time.
“The distinction here and the thing that needs to be focused on is that … we’ve had issue in the past where salaried employees would try to accrue comp time, spend comp time, use comp time even though they were not eligible to even accrue it,” he said. “The question is do we owe this to the taxpayer at this time to take a hard look at going to an overtime-based system instead of a comp-based system?”
Christensen added, “I realize that this is going to make our costs go up but the future liability of this is, which is still somewhat unknown, would be eliminated.”
Reinhardt said there have been issues in the past where certain employees have accrued so much comp time it was impossible to utilize it all.
One example given was a former county salaried employee who accrued so much comp, sick and vacation time he retired several months early causing the county to have to fill the void with another paid position.
Christensen gave another example of apparent abuses to the comp time system.
“We had an issue that was decided legally in an area where we had a gentleman who had accrued 26 hours of comp time between a Friday and a Monday,” he said. “He signed that time sheet and we disputed he had the ability to accrue that much time.”
Christensen added, “We ended up having to compensate for that.”
Commissioners also discussed the scenario where an employee may accrue hours of comp time at a certain pay rate and then cash those hours out once they reach a higher pay level.
“Who’s out the money?” Christensen said. “It’s easier to just pay them as they’re earned.”
Another problem with comp time, Christensen said, is the holes it can leave in the county’s workforce.
“By using comp time and not pay time what you end up with is an hour-and-a-half vacancy for every one hour that’s worked extra in the week,” he said. “So, the sheriff’s department is notoriously running into situations where if they owe somebody three hours of comp time, that’s three hours they have to juggle staff schedules … in order to make the coverage they need with the legally required coverage that’s there.”
Reinhardt said the sheriff’s office has done a great job of reducing the amount of comp time accrued from years past.
The commissioners tentatively discussed offering employees a buyback of unused sick days and the possibility of limiting sick hours to 200 in the future.
No decision was made.
The commissioners will further discuss the matter at their 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, May 11 meeting.