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Council Member Mathy Praises End Of Sick Leave Buyback 'Fiasco'

Jamie Mathy
Bloomington City Council member Jamie Mathy represents Ward 1, which includes parts of south and southeast Bloomington.

Jamie Mathy said he’s happy to see Bloomington city government close the book on what he calls a self-inflicted “fiasco” — the sick leave buyback program for retiring employees — and he’s hopeful additional changes can produce more savings.

At its Feb. 24 meeting the Bloomington City Council heard about four more employees who set plans to retire April 30. This is the last batch of employees whose rolled-over sick leave buyback (SLBB) money will be paid out before they retire, thereby increasing their future pension benefits, said Mathy. The city has worked for years to eliminate this so-called pension spiking—a practice many other Illinois cities have struggled to contain.

“The pension spikes will now stop,” Mathy said. “No one is happy with the amount of money this is going to cost the city, but at least this is the end of a bad program.”

Bloomington city government has chipped away at the SLBB problem for years. Sick leave payouts were stopped for all new employees starting in 2012, Mathy said, but that still left nearly 200 “grandfathered” employees with big payouts for their unused sick time on the horizon.

Mathy said it’s been one of his top priorities since being elected in 2017. In a lengthy Facebook post last week, Mathy called the SLBB program “nonsense,” a “fiasco,” and a “mess.”

“It’s a situation we got ourselves into, where decisions were made without considering future impacts. And I think it’s incumbent on every city council to do their best not to burden future city councils and lock them into decisions that are just not sustainable. That’s what happened with sick leave buyback,” Mathy said. “It’s a math question, right? It simply wasn’t a sustainable policy.”

City council members instructed the city manager in 2018 not to bring them any more union contracts unless they dealt with the SLBB issue. Without action, Mathy said, the city faced a “silver wave” of retirement payouts and pension spikes that would’ve cost $11 million to $13 million.

Instead, the city was able to work with its various collective bargaining units to negotiate an end to the former SLBB program. The four employees discussed Feb. 24 were part of that end.

“There were promises made to people. You can’t just take those away without negotiating clearly and fairly. We had to come up with a solution that was fair for everybody,” Mathy said.

Mathy said the city can possibly find more savings by considering two additional changes.

First would be to merge sick and vacation time into a single pool called “paid time off.” Mathy said it would also give more flexibility to the city’s employees.

Second, Mathy said the city should cap how much PTO can be rolled over year to year. He said “no more than five, 10, or 15 days should be allowed to roll over, depending on seniority.”

“I’ve never worked anywhere in the private industry where you’re allowed to carry sick time through from year to year. It never rolled through,” Mathy said.

Then, the rest of the PTO should be paid out at the end of the budget year at the employee’s current rate, he said. That addresses one of Mathy’s biggest concerns with SLBB historically: A veteran employee’s sick time was cashed out at their higher near-retirement rate of pay, even if the sick team originated from earlier in their career, when they made less money.

“The big thing is, every year at the end of the year, we pay out a bonus—whatever you want to call it—or time not used,” Mathy said. “It also has the added effect of, we’re not encumbering any future City Council to have to deal with payments that they didn’t sign up for.”

You can also listen to the full interview:

WGLT's full interview with Mathy.

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Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.