In the 2016 fiscal year, the city of Galveston paid departing employees $802,449 for unused sick and vacation leave, Human Resources Director Kent Etienne said.
Several city council members have used the number to argue for changes in the city’s vacation and sick leave policies, which are being reworked by the human resources department.
“It’s expensive for the city, as evidenced by what we’ve paid,” Councilman Mike Doherty, of District 4, said. “It seems to me that it just is an excessive amount of time that can be accumulated.”
The $802,449 was paid to civil service, non-civil service and police employees, but the city couldn’t immediately provide a breakdown, Etienne said.
Separation pay and accumulation of leave has been a hot issue as the city council has worked to approve new vacation and sick leave policies.
The city hasn’t suggested changes to its separation pay policies, but has asked the city council to approve a plan that allows employees to accumulate vacation days in shorter periods of time. In looking at those suggestions, however, several council members have found fault in the old and have disagreed with the payout process.
City employees can take a maximum of 40 days of vacation leave in one year if hours have been unused and rolled over from year to year, city documents show. If an employee leaves the city, all of that money in unused vacation would be paid out, Etienne said.
Employees can take up to 12 sick days a year, but can accrue to 120 days, according to city documents. That’s paid out on a sliding scale — the longer employees have worked for the city, the more they’ll be paid in unused sick leave, Etienne said.
Paying out vacation leave doesn’t seem like a problem, Councilwoman Amy Bly, of District 1, said.
“It’s time that they’ve earned,” Bly said. “It just seems fair.”
But sick leave shouldn’t be paid out, Bly said. Doherty agreed.
“I don’t mind people having sick leave,” Doherty said. “But if they’re healthy, I don’t see a reason to let that much carry over. It accumulates quickly.”
Vacation carry-over accumulates too fast as well, and people should be encouraged to take vacation, not save it, Doherty said.
“It certainly doesn’t sync with the business world,” he said.
Councilman Craig Brown, of District 2, said the city council needs to look at how the employees might be affected while still making policies competitive with other area entities.
“I’m still not sure exactly where the city needs to head,” Brown said. “But I think the vacation and sick leave issue needs to be looked at.”
As for the separation pay, Brown said “of course the money is an issue.”
Councilman Frank Maceo, of District 3, said he just wants the policies to be competitive while being fair to employees. Separation pay should be cut down, but it’s going to occur, he said.
“It is what it is,” Maceo said. “If that was our liability, we need to think about ways to trim it. That’s a liability.”