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Handbook 'oversight' causes problems

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GREENFIELD — County employees who received double pay for working holidays so far this year should no longer get the extra perk, Hancock County Council members say.

The council Wednesday discussed what it called a mistake in the new county employee policy that states every employee should be compensated for holidays, whether they work them or not.

The confusion might wind up costing taxpayers upwards of $20,000.

The policy, which took effect at the beginning of the year after hours of debate in committee meetings, led to confusion among public safety officers who had to work New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day but didn’t understand how they should be compensated.

While employees who worked the holidays were used to earning time and a half for the hours they worked, the new employee handbook implies they should be paid double.

“It’s kind of like double-dipping,” council President Bill Blander said.

The issue affects employees at the sheriff’s department, jail, Emergency Operations Center and community corrections; highway department employees could also be affected when they are called out on a holiday to remove snow, which they were for both holidays so far this year.  

Councilman Jim Shelby said since public safety employees get more days off per year because of their flexible work schedule than office employees who work five days a week, it doesn’t make sense to pay them double for working holidays.

Councilman Kent Fisk agreed.

“In my opinion, it was an oversight when they did the handbook,” Fisk said. “There was nothing broken at the time, and one of the options of fixing this is changing everyone’s schedules. That’s not a good option, either.”

The issue has come up multiple times in recent public meetings. Last week, Sheriff’s Maj. Brad Burkhart asked the county commissioners to explain the new county policy. Burkhart said the issue was causing frustration among sheriff’s employees who have a normal rotation of working days around the holidays.

“We passed a document, an ordinance that’s pretty clear,” Commissioner Brad Armstrong told him. “I don’t think now is the appropriate time to change it when you have a controversy.”

But commissioner President Derek Towel said while he would understand double pay for holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas, employees should not receive double when they work other holidays. Working holidays like Martin Luther King Day doesn’t have as much of an impact on their family lives, he said.

“Are you having a big gathering of family over for President’s Day? I highly doubt that,” he said.

While the council members decided to no longer pay double for holidays, they agreed employees should get paid double for the first two holidays of the year because the policy hadn’t been changed yet.

In fact, President’s Day is coming up Monday. If county commissioners don’t hold a special meeting between now and then to change the wording in the employee handbook, Auditor Robin Lowder said the county might be on the hook to pay county employees who work that day double time  on that day as well.

Lowder said it’s hard to tell just how much additional money the county will have to pay employees who worked double- time holidays. Burkhart projected for the sheriff’s department alone he’d need an additional $17,600.

But the additional money was not planned for the 2014 budget. Lowder said once she figures out the additional appropriation that’s needed, it will be legally advertised, and the council will vote on it next month.

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