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City payouts top $420,880

Despite reforms, employees cntinue to bank vacation, sick leave hours
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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By Jon Brines Placer Herald Correspondent As the city of Rocklin draws nearly $500,000 from its reserves to balance the budget in fiscal year 2011, it also paid out $420,880 in banked vacation and sick time to its employees. A review by the Placer Herald revealed 142 of the city’s 242 workers cashed in anywhere from one-quarter of an hour to 419 hours of unused and banked leave time. Rocklin City Manager Rick Horst explained the city is required to pay it. “When employees have years, if not decades of service, the number will be higher. As employees opt to retire or as they are separated from employment, regardless of the reason, we are required to provide the appropriate payout,” Horst said. The number represents the legally mandated payout of accrued vacation and other leave upon separation of an employee per the Memorandums of Understanding with Rocklin’s unions as approved by the City Council. “It should be understood that these employees have earned the time for which they receive the payout and the city is legally bound to meet this obligation,” Horst said. In 2010, it was $420,621, of which the city was obliged to write a check for $159,452 to former City Manager Carlos Urrutia after he retired and cashed in 25 years of unused leave. Last year, the City Council acted to limit Horst’s employment contract to six weeks, use-it-or-lose it. Now the most he could collect is $15,000, according to Horst. Currently, the city has agreed to allow AFSCME, management, public safety management and confidential employee union members 12 sick days banked per year with no maximum. The Rocklin Police Officers Association allows its members to bank up to 72 hours, depending upon service years. A Rocklin Fire Department Battalion Chief is allowed 144 hours with no maximum. As for unused vacation time for confidential employees and AFSCME members, they are allowed to bank up to 24 days per year with a maximum of 280 hours, depending on service time. Management and Public Safety Management unions get up to 24 days and a maximum of 240 hours. A Battalion Chief as well as the remainder of fire department employees can accrue 315 hours of vacation annually with a maximum of 340 hours, depending on service time. Government watchdog groups outraged by the policy are calling for further reform. Marcia Fritz, president of California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, called the agreement outrageous. “Government officials are terrible employers. No private employer could survive allowing its employees to accrue unlimited vacation like this,” Fritz said. The city is in the midst of negotiations with the bargaining groups with the primary goal of pension reform. According to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, leave payouts do not spike pensions. Even so, Fritz hopes this issue is not overlooked. “In addition to pension benefits, citizens should look at the compensated time off policies and demand that they be tightened,” Fritz said. Ted Costa of People’s Advocate, a watchdog group dedicated to educating the public on government spending, said what makes matters worse is how the city handles the payouts on the books. “If (the city) is allowing (workers) to carry over this leave, there is supposed to be a fund carried over at the end of every budget year,” Costa said. “That money should be waiting for them when they cash it in.” Horst said he sees the benefit, but most cities don’t operate that way. “I think they’re right. The truth is there is no fund. In most cities it is a pay-as-you-go type of proposition,” Horst said. He added that they base their budget amount on what they think they’ll use from year to year and that’s ultimately problematic. “If everybody quit today and cashed out, how do we pay for that? Just like an insurance company doesn’t want everyone to have a claim in the same year,” he said. “The truth is we have to prepare for it.” Horst refused to say if the excessive leave payouts are on the bargaining table. “At present I am not at liberty to discuss any of the bargaining table discussions,” Horst said. However, city council members will have to discuss the new union agreements in a public meeting to give residents an opportunity to comment. “They can limit that. They should eliminate that to 30 days, use it or lose it,” Costa said. “They’ll see (the workers) will use it.” ________ Rocklin’s vacation, sick time budget 2011: $420,880 Highest pay out: 419 hours Least paid out: One-quarter hour 42 employees participated 2010: $420,621 Source: City of Rocklin