Mendota Heights Policy Enforcement Lapse Could Result in $114,000 Payout
The city may have to pay out a lump sum for earned vacation benefits before it can start enforcing a cap.
The city of Mendota Heights is known for providing good benefits to its employees.
But when Mendota Heights City Administrator David McKnight started inspecting the books last year, he realized that some city workers have been accruing vacation hours worth thousands of dollars.
Rather than enforcing a city policy that unused vacation must expire at the end of every year, the city has been allowing the hours to accrue, and paying off sometimes-sizeable lumps of vacation benefits in the case of a retirement.
Now, 15 employees with the city have vacation balances that exceed 200 hours each, and the city faces the task of paying down those hours in 2011 dollars before it can start enforcing their own statute again. The cost? $114,142 and counting.
“That’s more than our state aid last year,” commented Mayor Sandra Krebsbach at a goal setting meeting last week when the predicament was presented.
“I’m not blaming these employees at all,” said McKnight at the meeting. “This is a city issue. We did not enforce our rules.”
McKnight started working with the city in Nov. 2009, after the retirement of former city administrator Jim Danielson. McKnight told Mendota Heights Patch he did not know how far back the policy stopped being enforced.
The employee with the largest chunk of time accumulated has 1,252 hours of total vacation time on the balance sheet, to a tune of $20,633.
The employee with the largest payout owed, due to a higher salary, is Sergeant Neil Garlock, whose 969 hours of total vacation time works out to just over $30,000 in benefits.
Nine of the fifteen employees are on the police department, with hours ranging from 970 down to just fractions over 200 hours, the maximum that McKnight suggested could be allowed to accrue in the future.
The current policy limits hours to 160, said McKnight.
Police Chief Mike Aschenbrener, who had 291 hours of total vacation time stored up when the data was run, said that he did not receive information on accrued benefits like vacation or sick leave in the past, and was not aware of the problem until McKnight brought it to his attention.
The problem for the police force, said Aschenbrener, is staffing. He estimated the force has been at full strength for a total of eight months since he started in 2003.
“You can force people to take time off, but unfortunately you don’t have anyone to fill in when they’re gone,” said Aschenbrener.
He said for himself and the sergeants, who are at-will employees, a backlog of vacation time can also be a buffer zone in case they are laid off. In addition, after reaching a certain threshold of vacation time, they no longer have to pay for certain disability insurance.
Contracts for the rest of the police force are set to expire Dec. 21, 2011, and the chief said the amount of vacation hours officers are allowed to accrue will likely be a point of negotiation. New police officers are not allowed to use vacation time in their first year of employment, which quickly puts them over 200 hours. He said 260 would be a more realistic threshold.