Government, Latest News, Preston County

Preston Commission agrees to pay deputies for unused vacation and comp days

KINGWOOD — Preston County Commissioners agreed Thursday to a buy out and/or trade off of comp and vacation days sheriff’s deputies would lose Dec. 31 because they didn’t use them.

Commissioners voted 3-0 to pay deputies for any compensatory days off (CDOs) they have left on Dec. 31 and to convert any vacation days above 30 left at the end of the year to sick days.

But we need to work on a long-term fix, they said.

“Next year I’m not crossing this bridge again,” Commissioner Don Smith said. “We need to fix the [employee] handbook so that this doesn’t happen again. Because this cannot continue to be a problem. Because it’s not fair to the deputies, and it’s not fair to the people of the county either to have us visiting this over and over again. It’s just something that hasn’t been managed properly, and I think we can do that.”

A preliminary estimate provided Thursday showed the buy out from 12 deputies could cost about $36,723. That number varies depending on how many days they take off by Dec. 31.

Some deputies stood to lose as much as 20.5 total vacation/CDO days.

Last week deputies asked if they could convert unused vacation days that would expire at the end of the year and CDOs to sick days. When they retire, the sick days would count toward longevity.

Deputies, who are Civil Service, are allowed to carry over up to 30 vacation days per year. They earn and use them on a calendar year. Unused vacation days are not paid for under county policy.

Senior officers may earn as much as 24 vacation days a year. And county employees had 17 holidays this year, plus any the governor may approve.

The county employee handbook says CDOs must be used before vacation days. County policy says that they must be used in a “reasonable” time

“It does not say anywhere that you can carry them over,” County Administrator Kathy Mace said.

A possible solution is to say the CDOs must be taken within a specific time or they will be paid for, Smith suggested

Smith quoted state code that says deputies are to be paid time and a half for CDO days or take the days, at the sheriff’s discretion. That rate of pay isn’t being used, Sheriff-Elect P.A. Pritt said Thursday.

“We can’t not have people out,” Pritt said. “And it’s not fair for them to lose their vacation days.”

He noted only the sheriff’s department and 911 have 24/7 operations. Lack of staff, COVID-19 quarantines and the workload have kept people from taking their days, Pritt said.

“Our request was simple, just a day for a day,” Pritt said.

Last year commissioners allowed deputies to convert up to 10 days. In 2002 the commission paid $46,318 to buy out as many as 20 CDO days from each deputy, correctional officer and 911 dispatcher because of similar circumstances.

“We need to have a solution so that we’re not coming back every single year,” Commission President Samantha Stone said.

If the number of CDOs hits a certain level, officers should be told to take them or be paid, Smith said. That would help avert the situation.

The term CDO itself should be discontinued, Mace suggested, and holiday substituted, because they are earned when a deputy works a holiday.

“If you pay them as you go, you’re not faced with this,” Mace said.

“I appreciate everything that the deputies, that the sheriff, does,” Stone said. “I do not want to see anything be lost, but we also have to come up with some sort of solution,” that’s fair to all employees.