As they're cashing out, longtime city employees are cashing in

As they're cashing out, longtime city employees are cashing in

CHAMPAIGN — For some city employees, retiring can be nearly as lucrative as keeping their job for another year.

As the city downsized during the recession and a number of high-profile retirements came through, payouts to people who have left the city of Champaign's employment within the past five years have topped $2 million. Meanwhile, current employees have accumulated tens of thousands of hours' worth of vacation and sick leave, and if they don't use it, they are entitled to a cash payment when they quit.

Payments to higher-ranking retirees as much as $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 or more are not uncommon. After retiring last year, City Manager Steve Carter collected just more than $100,000 for 1,185.5 hours of paid time off he accumulated during his 28 years.

Middle management can cash big checks when they quit, too. A building safety supervisor was paid $51,862.78 for his 1,116 remaining hours of paid time off. Two public works managers were paid $53,221.07 and $49,271.46. And a police sergeant cashed in his 1,049 hours for $43,670.37.

The trend likely will continue, as some current employees have maxed out their leave hours and some highly-paid managers have topped 1,000 hours of paid time off.

The News-Gazette obtained those numbers from the city of Champaign after filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The newspaper repeatedly asked for the same data from the city of Urbana, but that city refused to disclose the payment information citing an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

The News-Gazette has asked the Illinois Attorney General to review that city's denial.

The payouts are an obligation, said Champaign City Manager Dorothy David.

Not only has the city promised it to its employees in their benefit packages and union contracts, but it also is a matter of keeping the city in a good position to recruit employees in a competitive labor market.

And the separation payouts "are competitive," David said. "Whether we are looking at non-union employees or bargaining unit negotiations, when the city develops its benefits package, just as when we determine what a salary is, we look at the market."

Budgeters anticipate those retirements and plan accordingly, said Finance Director Richard Schnuer. The city included $200,000 in its spending plan this past year to pay employees who quit their jobs.

"We plan for it," Schnuer said. "We do budget a small amount for it, but we do not budget for the entire amount when employees leave the city employment. In most instances, there is a savings because we don't fill the position right away."

When an employee retires, the vacancy creates a budget savings because no one is being paid even though that person's full salary was accounted for in the budget. That salary savings supplements the amount the city budgets for separation pay, Schnuer said.

In other cases, city officials can plan a bit more for specific retirements. Carter and Fire Chief Doug Forsman, for example, announced their retirements well in advance, and budgeters knew they would have larger-than-normal amounts to pay. Forsman ultimately received $11,502.31 for his 157 unused vacation hours.

But in general, the amount the city budgets for retirees is based on historical data regarding employee separation rather than announced retirements.

"Otherwise, in most cases, employees will not give us a year and a half notice that they're going to retire," Schnuer said. "We have found that it's difficult to predict closely the amount."

The payments often are driven by the city's union contracts, which dictate how many paid leave hours employees may accumulate and how much they'll be paid when they leave.

"Every time the city goes to the negotiating table, we are looking to negotiate what is fair compensation both for the employees as well as for the city," David said.

Police officers and sergeants, for example, are contractually allowed to roll over up to 200 vacation hours and up to 1,192 hours of sick leave. They are entitled to payment for all of those vacation hours upon leaving the city's employment, but will be paid for sick leave only if they have at least 20 years of continuous service.

According to the contract, the payout will be between 60 percent and 90 percent of their accumulated sick hours depending on how many hours they have and how much advance notice they give of their plan to retire.

Firefighters can accumulate beyond 200 vacation hours and 1,344 sick hours. They are entitled to payment for all of the vacation hours and, similar to police officers, between 50 percent and 70 percent of their sick leave based on how much they have accumulated.

Public works employees can accumulate between 200 and 400 hours of vacation based on their years of service. They can accumulate up to 1,320 hours of sick leave and be paid for anywhere between 30 and 70 percent of it when they retire.

It would be very hard for city officials to negotiate those numbers down, David said.

"Once the city has agreed to certain economic terms in a contract, it's not easy to go back later and negotiate those regressively," the city manager said.

Some employees may be due for a big check when they leave. David, for example, had more than 800 hours remaining, and Deputy City Manager Joan Walls had accumulated 1,457 hours, according to city records.

City Attorney Fred Stavins, Champaign's longest-tenured employee, had 1,690 available hours of paid leave as of the beginning of this month. He is also one of the city's highest-paid employees.

Footing the bill
 
City employees typically receive a few hundred or a few thousand dollars for remaining paid time off when they leave, but a few high profile retirements have pushed the total payout to just more than $2 million in the past five years. Here are a few of them:
 
Name, Job Vacation hours Sick hours Comp time Payout
Steve Carter, City Manager 465.5 720 0 $101,660.30
Holly Nearing, Deputy Police Chief 400 720 40 $70,217.81
Tim Wild, Deputy Fire Chief 403.68 688.85 0 $65,900.76
Fred Halenar, IT Director 671.41 360 0 $64,935.72
Steve Clarkson, Deputy Fire Chief 314.106 661 0 $63,889.05
Trisha Crowley, Assistant City Attorney 380.85 663.16 0 $59,014.44
Brad Yohnka, Police Lieutenant 385.87 709.99 25.65 $58,661.44
Tom Schuh, Public Works Operations Manager 400 627.55 42.5 $53,221.07
Chris Bezruki, Human Resources Director 377.32 243.51 0 $39,307.05
R.T. Finney, Police Chief 400 43.28 0 $30,889.57
Doug Forsman, Fire Chief 157 0 0 $11,502.31
 
Some employees have accumulated more than 1,000 sick leave hours and hundreds of vacation hours. In the past five years, here’s what the city has paid for each:
 
Type Hours Payout
Comp time 1,231.25 $41,828.45
Vacation leave 20,592.35 $820,436.22
Sick leave 28,735.79 $1,148,577.63
Total 50,559.39 $2,010,842.30
 

 

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rsp wrote on June 29, 2014 at 8:06 am

What's not pointed out is that you can earn this time when you are paid a lower amount of money and cash out when you are paid considerably more years later. Most contracts don't have requirements that people take a vacation even if it improves their health. And as a side note, there is a vested interest in leaving the contracts the way they are for everyone. The ones negotiating have the same things. My son has a use it or lose it clause. Private sector.

serf wrote on June 29, 2014 at 9:06 am

A lot of municipalities also have use it or lose it clauses.  Public sector.

 

What's your point exactly (other than trying to fan the flames)?

rsp wrote on June 29, 2014 at 9:06 pm

I don't think I'm trying to fan the flames. I do think they should lower the amount of time that can accumulate. If they paid out closer to the value when they were earned maybe it wouldn't bother me so much. But if hours are earned at a pay scale of say $20 per hour but get cashed out at $30 per hour that bothers me. That's $10's that I feel wasn't earned.

Citizen1 wrote on June 29, 2014 at 10:06 am

Use it or lose it as in the private sector.  End public pensions and go to Social Security and 401ks like the rest of us.  We the taxpayers can't afford to pay people who do nothing with such largeness.  Time to move out of state and let the public employees figure out how to pay themselves.

serf wrote on June 29, 2014 at 10:06 am

Typical response.  I don't know if I should even bother debating someone who doesn't know the difference between largeness and largess.

There's a term for this.  It's called 'pension envy.'  

As I previously stated, many public sector employees do work under 'use it or lose it' contracts.

 

Nice Davis wrote on June 29, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Please, move out of the state! We don't need whiny low-information voters like you dragging this great state down.

BTW, it took about five minutes of googling to find that Champaign employees do have a use-it-or-lose-it clause with their vacation time.

jlc wrote on June 29, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Wow, employees are being paid what they are owed from their employer for the work they put in. Must be a slow news day.

amf wrote on June 29, 2014 at 7:06 pm

Um, isn't this required by law?

Knowledge wrote on June 29, 2014 at 7:06 pm

What a non-story! So, you're telling me that it would be more productive, and less costly to the city if these people took an extra 75 sick days and 45 vacation days? (Using above average numbers) They are not using these days....and are going to work instead! So, would the news gazette be writing a story about the people who have NO time accrued when they retire? Wouldn't these people be the ones we should worry about?? Why demonize people for having unused sick days?? Kinda silly to me. Just another example of this paper trying to drive a wedge between groups of people (private and public employees) that both get up every day and go to work, pay taxes, and don't receive government handouts. 

UrbanaJake wrote on June 29, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Thanks for this update.  So those who have the gold (TAX MONEY)  give them selves lots of time off, cash, benefits, and then raise property taxes, soak Springfield for pension money, and aRE ACCOUNTABLE TO NO ONE but their union boss.

Lovely,  no wonder I moved out of state.  Enjoy paying the slug-worthless employees forever. AND check the fine print, pensions go to wifey or husbandy upon death, dependent on the surgery that week.

STILL waiting for that bus station in Urbana., Winter is almost here.  for some of us.

The rest us aren't related to the hiring bossed/clouted-few who rule by fear.

UrbanaJake wrote on June 30, 2014 at 3:06 pm

Gracias, amigo.  No worries . . .

Bulldogmojo wrote on July 01, 2014 at 8:07 am

We use to have compensatory sick leave at the U of I which we could cash out half of when leaving. Stupid Blagojevich stopped that and made it a use it or lose it situation so now everyone does just that, uses all of it. Earned benefits are just that, earned.

cretis16 wrote on July 02, 2014 at 7:07 am

You've broken rule #1: Thou shalt never be critical of any public employee in CU.

People wonder why this state is in such a mess. Public Employees govern the state, and we dig deeper in debt while guys like Volk/MTD get 200K in pension. Property taxes off the chart, and governors giving even more raises to the public employees who keep the status quo in Springfield. It's time for more taxes for the taxpayers so we can build some more golden parachutes. Talk about a " special " class of people.