Sick day and vacation day payout reform

Gov. Chris Christie’s push to end the practice of accumulated sick day and vacation day payouts got a boost Thursday when 234 mayors, including more than 40 from South Jersey, signed on in support of the reform.

The governor’s support from local mayors came from Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean Counties and from both parties, although not all of them agreed on how the system should be changed.

Joined by 11 mayors at a press conference in Bergen County Thursday, Christie called upon the state legislature to move forward on this part of his proposed “tool kit” of reforms.

“After having specific bills to act on for nearly 19 months, it is past time for the legislature to stand up and give mayors the tools they are asking for to provide savings to taxpayers, including a complete end to the inexplicable practice of paying scarce taxpayer dollars for unused sick days,” Christie said in a statement. “Like the other tool kit bills, real sick and vacation benefit reform is a common sense reform that has bipartisan support of mayors, local elected officials and lawmakers from communities all across our state – urban and suburban, shore and inland, Democrat and Republican. There is no excuse for the legislature’s continued failure to deliver savings to our cities and property taxpayers.”

Christie vetoed a bill late last year that would have capped the amount of sick time public employees can accumulate at $15,000, but would have only applied to new employees. Workers with more than $15,000 saved would have been able to keep their time.

The governor maintains that employees should not be allowed to accumulate any sick days and that those with more than $15,000 saved should be required to draw down their accumulated days. He also wants all employees who take more than six consecutive sick days to have a doctor’s note.

Unused sick and vacation day benefits across the state total more than $825 million. Atlantic City, they calculated, owes $34.6 million in benefits, or $426 per taxpayer, according to statistics cited by the governor’s office.

Examples of large sick and vacation payouts are not uncommon. Most recently, Brigantineofficials agreed last month to pay the city’s retiring fire chief, John Frugoli, $127,000 in accumulated sick pay in two-week installments for one year, in addition to a lump sum of about $26,000 in unused vacation days.

Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther supports the governor’s reform initiative, but not for existing employees.

Guenther said that Frugoli “is contractually entitled to be paid for all those days,” and the year-long payout would be fiscally more prudent than a lump sum. “Employees who have earned those days to date have a right to keep what they’ve earned.”

“It’s a new era,” Guenther added, “and contracts going forward should reflect that. There’s a new reality that all municipalities and government agencies are facing. We all realize there’s fiscal challenges going forward.”

Northfield Mayor Vince Mazzeo, a Democrat, another of the signees, said that he was in favor of “basically anything that helps us with the burden of these sick (days).”

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