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Sick Days Mean Big Pay

Colorado Government Workers Collect Millions For Unused Sick Days
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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Investigates
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Investigator Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4)- While local and state government agencies are curbing services, furloughing employees and laying off workers due to shrinking budgets, a 4 On Your Side Investigation found at the same time, taxpayers are shelling out millions of dollars to retiring workers for unused sick days.

“We need to make some changes,” said Colorado Springs City Council Member Lisa Czelatdko. “We’ve created this legacy of debt so no, it’s not responsible.”

But it continues to happen.

When Colorado Springs Fire Chief Steven Cox retired from that position last year, the city gave him $57,626.37 for his unused sick days.

Colorado Springs City Attorney Patricia Kelly also retired last year leaving with a check for $41,787.20 for the sick days she didn’t use.

“We value our employees very much but in the end, we need to be responsible for taxpayers money and we can’t continue in these poor practices any longer,” said Czelatdko.

CBS4 found that in less than a year, 20 Colorado Springs city administrators left and walked away with a grand total of more than $ 1.2 million dollars in severance money, much of it for unused sick days.

While many companies and corporations in the private sector have a “use it or lose it” policy for sick days, many government agencies, like the Denver Police and Fire Departments, allow their employees to bank unused sick days then cash them out at retirement.

“With the banking of sick days that employees can do, it’s really turned into a cash bonus at retirement, which wasn’t necessarily the intent,” said Mac Clouse, a finance professor at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business.

Clouse said the amounts being paid out will likely grow even larger as more and more baby boomers in government service reach retirement age.

CBS4 found the Denver Police Department regularly paying out large sums to retiring officers who are cashing out as much as 115 sick days accrued during their careers.

When Captain Brian Gallagher retired earlier this year, he was given $52,228.22 for 110 sick days. Captain Patrick Carver retired in 2012 cashing in 97 sick days in exchange for $45,259.30.

Mike Rossi, a former Denver Police Detective, told CBS4, “I’ll put it this way, shame on the city attorney because if those folks aren’t smart enough to figure out what they’re negotiating, then more power to the police and firefighters who get that benefit.”

Rossi said when he retired; he collected thousands of dollars for his unused sick time.

“Overly generous, yeah,” said Rossi. “If you can walk away with 90 days or 105 days at a Captain’s pay, shame on the city, shame on the city.”

Other officers who left the department under dishonorable circumstances still collected big paydays for their sick time. Denver fired Officer Devin Sparks over a 2009 excessive force case but Sparks still picked up $16,246.51 for his sick time after just three years as a Denver patrolman.

The city also fired Detective Charles Porter who was accused of stomping on a teenage suspect. Porter walked away with $32,200.74 for his unused sick days.

Nick Rogers, president of Denver’s Police Protective Association, declined to discuss the sick day payouts.

“It’s not a story,” said Rogers.

Collective bargaining agreements between the city and police officers and firefighters allow individuals to bank 720 hours in sick time that they can then cash out when they leave.

Driving up the cost of the payouts is a little known escalator. Generally, the employees bank their 90 days in their first five or six years on the job when their salaries are the lowest. But they are allowed to cash them out at their rate of pay at retirement, typically their highest rate of pay. So taxpayers end up essentially paying the employees interest on sick days that were banked and never taken.

“I don’t think taxpayers realize that,” said Clouse.

So a police officer like Captain Gallagher who was on the force 35 years might have banked his sick days when he was paid about $100. Per day. But when he retired this year, he cashed out those sick days at a daily pay rate of $476.97 per day.

“Yeah, this is a pretty good city to work for,” said Rossi.

Denver City Council Member Jeanne Faatz said she’s bothered by this unfunded mandate.

“It does seem like we are more generous than elsewhere,” said Faatz.”But nobody has looked at it for whatever reason.”

The State of Colorado is also paying out millions in sick time, even after putting limits on the amount employees can bank. In fiscal year 2011, 791 state workers received $1.7 million dollars in sick time payouts. In fiscal year 2012, the payouts totaled $1.3 million.

State employees, who started before 1988, have no cap on the amount of sick time they can bank and cash out. Workers who started after the cap took effect can bank 360 hours, but only cash in a quarter of that time, 90 hours.

Sabrina D’Agosto with the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration says, “We have more than 33,000 employees so for reasons of fiscal responsibility it is just a large amount of money to be sitting on your books that could potentially have to be paid out at some point in time”.

But, D’Agosto says managing sick time is a balancing act, “We want employees to take sick time when they are sick and if they are not sick, that’s great for us. We’ll pay them out at quarter time when they retire.”

- Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com

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