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Athens City Council discusses vacation accrual policies, sets limits

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Monday night’s Athens City Council meeting began with a short discussion regarding parking legislation, but the majority of the night was spent debating a much more complicated topic.

City council’s most prominent discussion regarded Athens’ current vacation accrual process concerning non-union members or city employees.

In opening statements regarding vacation accrual, Jeffrey Risner, D-2nd Ward, expressed his thanks to departments that are attempting to help fix this issue and his hope to come to a fair agreement between Athens employees and the city’s best interest.

“The only thing I’m trying to get is something fair,” Risner said. “If it’s fair, I can live with that. The fact that some parts will be disagreed on, I can live with that too. I’ve got tough skin.”

City legislation does not currently hold a limit to the amount of paid vacation days that one can accumulate. Athens’ City Auditor Department expressed concern toward having no cap to vacation accumulation.

“I know of no other institution or organization that allows employees to accumulate vacation without any type of limit” said Deputy Auditor Laura Kreider.

Athens’ City Auditor Department explained two issues this creates for Athens. Too many vacations taken at the same time, as well as extended vacations, could disrupt common workplace flow and city logistics. In addition to this, some employees who choose to accumulate a large number of vacation days are able to essentially retire and remain on the payroll for months following. This requires overtime payment or the addition of another employee to the payroll.

Over the past few months, council members have attempted to resolve that. They have now tentatively agreed upon a three-year accumulation window in which vacation time must be spent.

However, between 16 and 25 percent of non-union employees are currently well beyond the three-year window, according to Kreider. Many of the vacation days that were created over the three-year window are now posing a “financial liability” to the City of Athens.

Like many Ohio municipalities, Athens city models its vacation accrual policy after the Ohio International Consortium; however, the Athens’ City Auditor Department feels the city has left out wording that enables a cap on accumulated hours that is included in the OIC’s process.

“Unlimited accruals is a financial liability for the city because it has to be paid out every three years to employees,” Kreider said.

The city currently has a budget set for $30 million to cover the costs of paid vacation time.

Kreider went on to point out the city’s increased debt and liability due to their loans for a new city pool and parking garage.

Mayor Paul Wiehl added his own comments on the issue, urging the council to get the vacation policy right or face a mayoral veto.

“If I don’t like it, I’ll veto it,” Wiehl said. “Then you will have 10 days to come back with something, and if I don’t like that, I’ll veto that too … Seems to me you’re at risk of pushing out some hard working employees.”

Kreider recognized the Mayor’s statement but continued to stress the importance of this ordinance. The deputy auditor denied any attempt of pushing out hard working employees, stressing the toll vacation accrual has on city finances.

With Halloween set for this weekend, Athens City Council also discussed parking arrangements for the rest of the holiday season.

Committee members discussed limiting free parking around specific Holiday events and activities. This would go back on previous legislation allowing for free parking from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

Due to a joint effort between the transportation committee and the Athens Chamber of Commerce, free parking will be limited to Dec. 3, 10 and 17 for two hours with the addition of all day on the Saturdays leading up to Christmas.

Allowing free parking during a limited number of days will “encourage people to come to the uptown area” and take part in activities, said Chris Knisley, president of the city council.

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