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Benefits For Riverside County Employees Under Scrutiny

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors is proposing the county adopt private sector policies when it comes to benefits for its employees.

Patch file photo.
Patch file photo.

Riverside County supervisors today asked staffers for a review of policies that permit employees to "bank" hundreds of hours unused vacation and sick time that can be cashed in later under what one supervisor called a "non-transparent," questionably accurate process.

"When you have an organization with more than 18,000 employees, there are inevitably going to be a few who will try to game the system," Supervisor Jeff Stone said. "We are responsible to the taxpayers of this county. We need to have tighter restrictions, especially with respect to higher-paying positions. This is about greater accountability."

Stone and Supervisor Kevin Jeffries proposed the formation of "Require Every Department to Account for Cumulative Time," or REDACT, with the goal of reducing retirement, vacation and severance costs by adopting private sector policies.

"In recent instances, (the county) has paid out large sums of money to some persons who have retired, been dismissed, or left county employment for various reasons," Jeffries and Stone wrote.

Jeffries represents the cities of Lake Elsinore and Wildomar, among other local jurisdictions, while Stone represents Murrieta and Temecula, among others.

Stone noted that a 10-year employee of the Riverside County Regional Medical Center recently cashed in a year's worth of accumulated vacation and sick time.

"How does that happen?" the supervisor wondered. "I'm finding the details are very sketchy."

According to the supervisors, "large payouts" have been the result of contracts or county resolutions intended to compensate employees for "extra time worked." Unused vacation time and sick days can be redeemed when an employee ends his or her county service.

"In many cases, these awards have been for thousands of accumulated hours of 'annual leave,' amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars," Jeffries and Stone wrote in their REDACT proposal.

Jeffries said REDACT should consider established practices at SoCal Edison, SoCal Gas and Verizon.

Board of Supervisors Chairman John Benoit suggested the county should also look at how his one-time employer, the California Highway Patrol, as well as the federal government handles "hours banking."

"They're a little more restrictive," Benoit said. "When I was in state service, we went from multiple annual leave banks to a single one for comp time, vacation time and sick time."

According to Stone, it's essential that hours amassed be properly documented.

"I'm finding that currently it's rather non-transparent and non-accurate," he said. "Payouts need to truly reflect the hours accrued."

County CEO Jay Orr said Executive Office staff could look at possible changes to hours banking by department heads and managers, but any wider revisions would have to await the expiration of collective bargaining agreements with unions that represent the vast majority of county employees.

Jeffries replied that he did not want any review held up because of union negotiations.

"It's management that has the really high-dollar abuses or payouts, however you want to look at it," the supervisor said. "These things give everybody a black eye and need attention right away."

Orr said he would "immediately" initiate a REDACT analysis pertaining to managers.

The issue of accrued vacation and sick time compensation came under close scrutiny two years ago when the board approved a four-year memorandum of understanding with the Deputy District Attorneys' Association.

Under the terms of that deal, county prosecutors are permitted to amass 2,080 hours of vacation time during their careers and can cash in 40 hours of unused time every quarter. The balance would be paid when a DDA retires or otherwise leaves the agency.

In exchange, the DDAA acquiesced to members paying more toward their own pensions. --City News Service

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