Ocean View considers extending or paying for accrued vacation

The Ocean View Town Council met earlier this week to discuss possibly extending the use date for excess accumulated employee vacation days.

Town Manager Dianne Vogel said the Town’s personnel policy states that the total accumulated vacation is limited to four weeks, as determined at Dec. 31. Exceptions may be made for circumstances that prohibit the use of vacation time, she noted.

She noted that Police Chief Ken McLaughlin, officers Sidney Ballentine and Heath Hall, Public Works Director Charlie McMullen and Finance Director Lee Brubaker all had excess hours.

“During the 2012 calendar year, the police department experienced a shortage of staff, and the officers were asked to cover other shifts, so vacations were not allowed. As you know, Lee filled in for the town manager’s position for almost a year, so he assumed responsibilities of the position, making it difficult for him to use his vacation leave,” said Vogel.

“I am asking council to allow these individuals to carry this accumulated excess leave over to June 30,” she explained. “Under ordinary circumstances, vacation is there for them to use. You had some unusual circumstances that I believe warrant, in this particular circumstance, exception.”

Councilman Tom Sheeran asked Brubaker to calculate how much it would cost the Town to pay the employees for their unused vacation time. To pay the five employees in total, it would be approximately $32,000, he said.

Councilman Bob Lawless said that he wanted to “wipe the books clean” and, in doing so, the employees could either use the vacation time by the proposed June deadline or lose it.

“That’s earned leave. We owe it to them, either in time or money,” said Sheeran.

“These people didn’t choose it to be this way,” added Councilwoman Michele Steffens.

Lawless suggested that the council raise the allowed vacation time to accumulate up to five weeks, and whatever vacation is not used up by June would be paid at 50 cents on the dollar.

“The target is 912 hours of vacation hours that were not allowed to be taken because of extenuating circumstances. These are exceptional hours that were basically refused leave. They couldn’t take it, and now they have more because of the extenuating circumstances, and they have more than what the personnel policy allows them to carry over.

“And it’s so much more that, if we say, ‘We’ll let you carry it over for six months,’ we’ll lose all of our senior people for three of those six months, and we’ll be right back in the same situation that we were before,” responded Sheeran. “Will the budget handle buying them off one time? Paying for that, because of the extenuating circumstances?”

Vogel said that the council would have to amend the Personnel Policy section that would extend the employees’ leave.

“What happens to hours that exceed that limit?” asked Lawless.

“You need to make a decision. Every organization has a different policy. Some are very strict, where you use it or you lose it. Or if there are extenuating circumstances, council has to recognize that and they get to carry it over… You have some special circumstances here,” said Vogel.

The council requested that Vogel rework the Personnel Policy with a proposed amendment and bring it back for discussion at their February meeting.

Also this week, McMullen spoke to council regarding the progress of the planning of the new public works building. Previously McMullen had wanted the DPW building to be a block building, however he said he now feels a steel building would be more viable.

“We had two bids on this building,” said McMullen. “I had proposed and strongly wanted a block building, because like the three little piggies — when the wind blows it down, I want it to blow down. But, in retrospect, and realizing the budgetary constraints, and realizing the cost of construction that we received for the block building, I have decided to recommend that we move in the direction of procuring a steel building.”

McMullen said he would like to seek a proposal for a 3,600-square-foot steel building.

“I would like to give those two public works people that we speak about all the time a place that they can call home, where the roof is not falling in on them, the lights are proper, it meets the Town’s requirements and they’re not freezing to death half the time.”

The council voted unanimously to approve McMullen’s recommendation for a steel building, and to begin the process of soliciting bids.

Gary Cordier, president of the Foxwood Court Home Owners’ Association read a letter to council requesting information about street light electric bills that his development pays.

“Our HOA has been paying the monthly electric bills for our three street lights since the developer of Foxwoods turned over the HOA to us in December 2009,” said Cordier. “We do not understand why our HOA, and not the Town of Ocean View, is responsible for paying these electric bills.”

Cordier said that the HOA had reviewed the Town Code and could not find any indication that the cost should be responsibility of Foxwood.

He added that the HOA had reviewed also meeting minutes and found that, on June 12, 2012, McMullen had “noted that the Town does not pay for streetlights in some subdivisions because of past agreements when the streets were accepted into the Town.”

“We are unaware of any agreement between Foxwood Court HOA and the Town requiring us to pay the electric bills for our streetlights,” he said.

Cordier went on to respectfully request that the Town provide the HOA with a citation to any legal authority in town code that places the responsibility for paying the electricity costs for streetlights on a subdivision’s property owners or HOA; a list of all town subdivisions and HOAs that are required to pay for the costs of electricity for streetlights; and all agreements between the Town and any subdivision or HOA regarding payment of the costs of electricity for streetlights.

Mayor Gordon Wood requested that Cordier fill out a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents. The town solicitor requested that Cordier send him a copy of the Foxwood covenants.

“It seems like some form of legal review should take place,” said Wood.

Cordier noted that, since December 2009, the Foxwood HOA has paid approximately $1,000 per year in electric bills for the three streetlights.