Sick leave buy-back has officers and council member at odds - Tucson News Now

Sick leave buy-back has officers and council member at odds

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TUCSON, AZ (TNN) – Saving sick leave and cashing it at retirement is a common benefit for public safety employees.  But Tucson's first responders can also cash part of their saved sick leave at the end of each year as a bonus, and then add that to their annual income for a higher pension-related salary.

Phoenix is getting sued by the Goldwater Institute for allowing it.

For example, with a sick-leave sell-back, a police officer or firefighter who makes about $65,000 a year could cash about $5,000 of sick leave, and increase the salary to $70,000, which counts toward the pension.

The Tucson city attorney has written that the practice breaks Arizona public safety pension rules and that it should stop.  This comes on top of a Tucson city council member Steve Kozachik's push to end sick-leave sell back at the end of the year altogether, which he said is worth about two and a half million dollars for the city.

Tucson Police Officers Association disputes that amount and said that it includes other benefits.  Association president Bill Bonanno also said that the sell-back keeps Tucson competitive with other jurisdictions and holds on to those with experience.

Even if it stays, Kozachik said that using it to increase pensions has already brought a lawsuit against the City of Phoenix by the Goldwater Institute, and that an administrative move to stop boosting pensionable pay now could keep the city out of trouble.

"And if they see we're being proactive about it and not just extending this out when we have guilty knowledge that it's very clear in the statute,(42:37) if you can read, you can see that unused sick leave is not to be considered compensable income for the purpose of spiking your pension.  That's clear in the statute.  We need to stop it," said Tucson City Council member Steve Kozachik.

"If it's something they say, you're doing what you can do, I think we run into more of a problem there because if we go and do something where they take it away at this point, you know, now we're talking about back pay and things of that nature, do we reinstitute the program or do away with it altogether," said Tucson Police Officers Association president Bill Bonanno.

The move would not end saving sick leave and being able to cash it at retirement.  Kozachik will submit ending the annual sell-back as part of his budget recommendations, which the Bonanno said could result in more overtime as officers use their sick leave more often for mental health days, which could then require calling in other officers to cover those shifts.

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