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Vacation Buyback Subject of Scrutiny

Ventura County will examine a policy that lets its workers cash in on unused leave.

September 10, 2003|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Pay and benefits for Ventura County government employees would be scoured for potential cost savings under a proposal put forth by two supervisors Tuesday.

Supervisors Steve Bennett and Kathy Long asked their colleagues on the county board for a discussion of compensation issues at next week's meeting.

The county needs to look at ways to further pare its $1.2-billion annual budget because of the growing state financial crisis, Bennett said. Although $17 million has been shaved from the current year budget, more cuts may be coming, he said.

Supervisors will look at a variety of cost-saving strategies, from ordering mandatory work furloughs to trimming benefits. Of particular interest is a generous policy that allows the county's 8,000 employees to sell back their unused vacation time.

Managerial employees are provided up to nine weeks of leave each year that they can then sell back to the county for cash. For some top-level supervisors, that can amount to tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Rank-and-file employees have less vacation time and stricter rules on selling back unused days.

With the county under pressure to tighten its budget, it makes sense to review these policies to determine if some should be changed, Bennett said. He pointed out that the buyback policy could result in long-term costs because payouts could be factored into an employee's pension.

"Some employees can save up 400 hours of leave and then use that to spike their pension when they leave the county," he said. "I'm very concerned about that because it becomes an ongoing expense."

Managers say the buyback benefit was given instead of pay raises a decade ago. It is only by having the buyback available that executive salaries in Ventura County are competitive with neighboring counties, said Cal Remington, the county's probation chief.

"It's not like our salaries are equitable and we have this perk on top," Remington said. "It's factored into our salaries."

Budget manager Paul Derse said he could make more money in another county but stayed in Ventura County because of the buyback benefit. It has come in handy as he and his wife put two children through Stanford University, Derse said.

Still, Derse said he understood why supervisors might want to roll the benefit into base pay so it is easier for the public to understand how much government workers are paid.

"Maybe that's what they have to do," he said. "The buyback is not crucial for me, but it certainly helps."

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