published Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Hamilton County tightens workers' benefits


by Cliff Hightower

The Hamilton County Commission is tightening benefits for new hires by limiting the number of leave days they can accrue each year.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger told the commission the change will save money over time.

"The reason we're making these changes is to prepare for the future and future expenses," he said.

Commissioners voted 8-0 to change the county employee handbook to reduce the number of leave days an employee can carry over year to year. Commissioner Fred Skillern, who is recovering from surgery, was absent.

Now, employees can accrue up to 210 days of paid leave time and be paid for it when they retire. The new policy change, effective Jan. 1, limits accrued time to 100 days. The county will save money by not having to pay former employees who are not working, county officials said.

Most of commissioners' discussions Wednesday centered on how much leave time Skills Incentive Management Program employees -- part-time workers who put in a minimum of 25 hours a week -- should be able to accrue.

The program is known as SKIMP, and a representative of the Human Resources Department told commissioners that 12 employees are on the books.

The administration proposed that SKIMP employees accrue up to 63 days at the end of 30 years.

Commissioner Joe Graham countered, saying the part-time employees shouldn't be able to accumulate more than a week.

Coppinger told commissioners he would support whatever decision they made, and they voted 8-0 for the maximum of 40 hours' accrued leave.

The new policy won't apply to current employees, only new hires.

Coppinger said human resources officials would start holding classes soon to educate employees about the new policies.

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