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Some City of Mission employees have banked over 2,000 hours of unused vacation pay that, under current city policy, will be due the employee at time of retirement if that employee has over 30 years of service.

City Finance Director Janie Flores, responding to an Open Records request, said the city owed employees outstanding balances of $1,500,185 for accrued vacation hours and $1,960,897 for accrued sick leave, as of Sept. 30, 2011.

In a workshop held Monday to review City of Mission personnel policies, a discussion of capping excessive hours of banked vacation pay soon led to suggestions to reduce the number of vacation days awarded employees in the first place.

City Manager Julio Cerda said, “The maximum we give out is four weeks of vacation, but most of the time they don’t take it. What happens is that they accrue it and at the time (of separation) after 25-30 years, the city pays out that liability to the person.”

Flores said, right now the city has one employee who has 2596 hours in sick leave and one employee who has 2456 hours in vacation accumulated.

The council favored continuing to allow employees to bank – or rollover – unused sick leave hours, but not vacation time.

Councilwoman Norie Garza said, “I think it’s important for people to take time off. And if there is a maximum, that encourages them to take their time off. If they don’t take their time off, they’re going to lose it.”

First saying he opposed setting limits on accrued vacation pay, Councilman Armando O’cana later agreed with Garza, saying, “On the vacation I don’t mind (if they don’t accrue hours). There’s research that backs up that if you take a good summer vacation then you’re going to be at your highest in October, November and December.”

Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas said the city employees should not have any rollover hours at all and that all employees should be limited to just two weeks of vacation each year, a departure from the current policy.

A survey of neighboring cities conducted by city staff revealed that the City of Mission currently has the most generous vacation policy, allowing 20 days of vacation after only 10 years of service. Mission is also the only city that has no cap on the maximum number of days that may be rolled over each year if unused.

However, most of the cities surveyed allow 20 days of vacation after 20 years. Harlingen grants 20 days after 25 years.

The question was raised, but not fully addressed during the workshop concerning Civil Service rules regarding vacation day requiremenst. In a telephone interview Wednesday, Deputy City Manager Sonia Marroquin said she thinks Civil Service requires 15 vacation days. She will review those requirements and present the information to the city council before any action is taken.

“This is all preliminary because I want to make sure council has all the information before them before they make the final decision,” she said.

The employees are the city’s most valuable assets, Marroquin said.

“But by the same token, we have to balance that with fiscal responsibility to our citizens…. We are a growing workforce. Perhaps the way that we used to do things and provide benefits, when we had a smaller workforce, worked for the city, but now we have to look at our overall operation. You want to provide the best possible benefits, but at the same time be fiscally responsible. That’s the charge that we’ve been delegated. I don’t think our citizens would expect anything less,” she said.

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