Sick leave buy back under fire - Tucson News Now

Sick leave buy back under fire

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

With the city of Tucson facing a $27 million shortfall, some tough choices have to be made between now and June when a final budget is adopted.

There will be layoffs, positions eliminated and service cuts.

But the one which will likely get the most resistance is a suggestion being made by Ward VI city council member Steve Kozachik. to save $2.6 million.

He's suggesting the city eliminate the sick leave buy back program afforded to police and fire.

Numbers given to News 13 by the city manager's office show the top recipient of the program is Tucson's police chief, Roberto Villasenor.

For 208 hours of accrued sick time, he was paid $16,129 on top of his $160,000 salary.

The fire chief, Jim Critchley was paid $15,072, also added to his $154,000 salary.

There were nearly 100 police and fire fighters who were paid $7,000 or more by selling back their accrued sick time.

Here's the entire list.

Hundreds of others were paid less but thousands of dollars is not uncommon.

"There's some real inequality going on," Kozachik says.

He says the city is talking about raising bus fares on people who make less than many public safety officers take home in the buy back program.

"Go ahead and accrue your sick time and keep accruing it in case you have a catastrophic injury or illness," he says. "But don't use it as a seven thousand or ten thousand dollar Christmas turkey at the end of the year."

Assistant city manager Kelly Gottschalk says at this time the city manager's office will not recommend it as a budget balancing measure.

"It all comes down to mayor and council," she says. "They can make changes with four votes."

But getting those votes will likely be difficult.

"When the city manager tells us we have a $27 million deficit, our job is finding ways to trim that down without cutting services," Kozachik says.

Chief Villasenor says the buy back is not a perk. It's a necessity to make sure Tucson can recruit and retain public safety personnel in a competitive market.

It's long been noted Tucson loses officers to higher paying jurisdictions, especially to the Phoenix area.

However, Scottsdale does not have the sick leave buy back program.

But Kozachik wants to have the conversation, win or lose.

"We can't go on writing those checks," he says.

Copyright 2014 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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