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January 26, 2020

12/10/2019 7:30:00 AM
Oneida County committee revisits PTO concerns
Kayla Houp
Of The Lakeland Times

The Oneida County board's labor relations and employee services committee is once again discussing the county's paid time off (PTO) system of compensation.

"The funding opportunities committee had suggested taking a look at PTO caps as well as vacation time, so forth, comp time," employee services manager Jennifer Lueneburg said.

According to Lueneburg, the county had sick time and vacation time 20 years previously, but has since converted over to a PTO system.

"When you converted over, what were the numbers allowed for sick days?" Committee member Billy Fried asked.

An informational sheet referred to at the meeting, comparing the traditional system to the converted system, indicated employees could earn one sick day of leave per month with a maximum of 90 days, with a maximum of 40 days payout at retirement.

Lueneburg explained that, between sick time and vacation time, employees lost an average of seven days per year during the conversion. While employees lost those seven days, Lueneburg stated it also allowed employees to use their discretion in how they apply their PTO, whereas previously vacation and sick leave were limited to those respective areas.

At the time of conversion, there wasn't a limit as to how many PTO hours could be accumulated, Lueneburg said. However, since that a time, a cap of 1,000 hours was implemented.

"Which means, each year they take a look at your PTO balances. If you have 1,000 hours, more than 1,000 hours, you lose your PTO above 1,000 hours each year," Lueneburg explained.

While some employees did try to use their time off, there were still employees that lost their PTO each year because they were unable to use it, she added.

Fried raised the question of how PTO is awarded during the year.

"So now, PTO you're given an annual amount in January that includes your, the PTO basically encompasses your sick days, your vacation days, and your holidays, currently," Lueneburg said.

"Are there trends to go in one direction?" Committee member Dave Hintz asked. "I was used to more traditional type plan. Are counties, government and industry going more to a PTO basis now?"

"It's a lot easier to manage instead of scrutinizing each little jar they reach into," Fried said, referring to his experiences serving on the Minocqua J1 School Board.

Lueneburg said the difference was related to the seven days of sick time that was taken away.

Hintz asked what happened if an employee were to use all of their PTO, if there was a long-term disability program to assist them.

Lueneburg said there was also short-term disability program based on a waiting period before it could be used, and that employees would have to use PTO until they could get on the program.



Ideas to consider

Lueneburg addressed three ideas the committee could consider moving forward that would remove the closure days from the PTO banks, require all employees use two weeks of PTO each year, and lowering the PTO cap through a grandfathering method.

"Employees right now they have to remember as they're looking at their PTO banks that they have to allow for those closure days, especially at the end of the year," she said.

Removing closure days from PTO banks could potentially create an issue for 24-hour operations, such as the sheriff's office, and that guidelines would have to be implemented if the committee decided to go that route, Lueneburg said.

"When we budget, we budget for a guy to take his PTO, but if he doesn't take his PTO and he banks it, basically, it's costing us more money in the long run," committee member Scott Holewinski said.

Finance director Darcy Smith said the county budgeted for annual salaries and that the PTO would get paid out at the higher rate, whereas before, the old plan would carry forward four weeks vacation.

"But then I'm budgeting for 2000 or 1980-2080, but if I don't take my PTO days, I'm getting more hours in that year, because you're going to pay me out for the ones that I didn't take at the end, eventually," Holewinski said. "So, if I'm at 2,080, and I don't use any PTO, I'm at 2,180, or however that comes out."

Smith said employees could request a payout at the next year, equal to the hours they earned in PTO that year, which would be at the next year's rate.

Holewinski said the county still didn't budget for employees not taking their PTO.

Smith said $159,000 was budgeted for PTO payouts per year, but that figure "was getting to be not enough."

Smith said that the transition from the traditional system to the PTO system was to eliminate abuse of sick and vacation leave.

Another consideration was using a grandfathering method to go to a 500-hour cap.

Lueneburg said the next step was to bring these ideas to the various department heads for their input.

Fried raised additional concerns over comp time and cashing out PTO at a higher rate of pay.

"It needs to be changed for the future, because this is just one of the elements of the challenges we have to sustaining our programs," he said.

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at kaylah@lakelandtimes.com.





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