Taxpayers foot bill for paid leave

Most costs stem from discretionary time on Christmas, New Year's eves

Paid Leave by Department

Administrative leave for thousands of Maui County salaried employees cost taxpayers more than $1.3 million in fiscal years 2016 and 2017, with most of the expense tied to the longtime practice of granting discretionary leave for county workers to take half days off on Christmas and New Year’s eves.

The information surfaced as part of recent Uniform Information Practices Act requests from Maui Meadows resident Madge Schaefer and The Maui News. Schaefer said her request stemmed from being curious about total county personnel placed on administrative leave after Mayor Alan Arakawa took Department of Water Supply Director Dave Taylor off the job Nov. 15 and put him on paid leave, initially as part of an ongoing effort to remove him permanently. Taylor is suing, demanding the county allow him to return to work as water director.

On Dec. 21, Schaefer requested information on administrative leave for fiscal years 2016, 2017 and the first half of this fiscal year. Then, last month, Schaefer received a response from the county that showed administrative leave costs of $608,881.94 for 2,739 paid days off from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016, and $701,520.93 for 3,108 employee days off from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017.

The Maui News received the information from Schaefer and sought further data from the county.

A recent response from the county provided a breakdown of fiscal 2016 administrative leave costs. (A similar breakdown was not immediately available for fiscal 2017.)

A look at administrative leave by county departments shows the most leave hours were taken by the Maui Police Department, 4,046 hours costing $126,907.06; followed by the Department of Parks and Recreation, 3,037 hours, $62,782.12; and the Department of Finance, 2,888.75 hours, $63,485.10. (See table on Page A6 for full listing.)

The county reported that of the 2,211 employees who received administrative leave in fiscal 2016, 2,200 were given leave due to a policy of providing half days off for Christmas and New Year’s eves — four hours each for a total of eight hours per employee. Another 84 employees received additional paid administrative leave when the Maui County Service Center in the Maui Mall shut down because of flooding and related damage in February and March 2016.

The county report said administrative leave can be used when employees are injured on the job (workers’ compensation cases), when employees want time off in lieu of overtime pay, when there’s a workplace investigation or when a worksite is closed because of a storm or disaster and employees are sent home.

The county does not budget for administrative leave, and it is paid for out of budgeted salaries. The mayor has the final say on whether to grant administrative leave. Workers on such leave continue to accrue medical insurance coverage, pension, sick leave and vacation benefits.

The cost breakdown for fiscal 2016 was:

• $490,483.25 (an average of $231.80 per employee) for 2,116 employees for Christmas and New Year’s eves off, time off to donate blood and time off for parent-teacher conferences.

• $49,988.29 (an average of $595.10 per employee) for 84 employees for Christmas and New Year’s eves off, blood donations, parent-teacher conferences and for the closure of the Kahului service center.

• $49,522.76 (an average of $8,253.79 per employee) for six employees’ workers’ compensation cases.

• $10,439.03 (an average of $3,479.68 per employee) for three employees who were under investigation and separated from employment.

• $6,563.31 for one employee who was investigated and cleared.

• $1,885.30 for one employee who was deployed by the Red Cross.

The county’s report to The Maui News said total payroll in fiscal 2016 was $154,844,066 for its more than 2,600 employees.

The county has salaried and casual hourly employees — for summer PALS employees and school crossing guards, for example — and only salaried workers qualify for administrative leave, according to David Underwood, director of the county Department of Personnel Services.

The report pointed out that the $608,881.94 paid in administrative leave was less than 1 percent (0.39 percent) of the county’s total payroll expenditure in fiscal 2016.

The half days off for holiday eves have been in place for “decades,” the report said.

Underwood verified that, saying it’s been the practice for Maui mayors to grant the holiday eve leaves since he began working for the county 25 years ago.

When asked if other counties have the same practice, Underwood said it’s “pretty routine.”

Former Mayor Charmaine Tavares confirmed on Saturday that payment of half days for holiday eves “has been a tradition.”

“And, I really don’t have a problem with it,” she said. “It’s not worth the bad will (that would be incurred) because the employees always do it already, and it’s considered part of their (employment) package.”

Tavares added that: “As far as I was concerned, some of the employees that I worked with . . . they go over and above, and they worked overtime and didn’t claim it.”

When asked if the City and County of Honolulu granted administrative leave during the holidays, city spokesman Andrew Pereira said that last year the city granted employees eight hours of administrative leave on Dec. 22 or Dec. 29. Administrative leave was not given to hourly paid employees, suspended employees or those on leave without pay, he said.

The city did not have a report detailing which employees received administrative leave or how much it cost, he added.

There was no immediate response Friday or Saturday from Hawaii island and Kauai counties on whether employees get administrative leave for holiday eves.

Underwood said that, by now, Maui County employees probably expect to get paid time off for the holiday eves. And, public demand for county services is not high during the holidays when people, in general, are “not patronizing government offices,” Underwood said.

“It tends to be fairly slow,” he said.

Although the holiday eve time off is granted by a memo from the mayor, county employees are not required to take it off, he said.

For county departments that provide 24/7 services, such as the police and fire departments, employees who work on the holidays may take their leave off sometime before the end of March, he said.

The mayor has the authority to grant paid administrative leave as the county’s chief executive with the power to excuse employees from work, Underwood said.

Administrative leave is not a matter negotiated with public labor unions, he said.

Schaefer said county employees already get most holidays as paid days off (13 per year, 14 in election years), and she didn’t understand why the additional benefit of paid holiday eves was a necessary public expense.

“Probably the best-paying jobs in the island are county jobs,” she said.

In addition to getting paid for holidays off, county employees earn up to 21 days of vacation and 21 days of sick leave per year. Employees may carry over from year to year as many as 90 vacation days. Eligibility to accrue vacation and sick leave begins on the first day of work. There’s no limit on the amount of sick leave that can be accumulated.

From the county’s perspective, “it’s only a little over half a million dollars,” Schaefer said of the cost of administrative leave. “That’s chump change for the county.”

But, if residents pay, on average, $2,000 per year in property taxes on a home, then it would take more than 300 homes per year to pay for the annual cost of the county’s administrative leave, she said.

Meanwhile, “my street (in Maui Meadows) hasn’t been paved in 29 years,” she said. “You drive down my street; it’s like a Third World country.”

And, the reason provided for not paving streets — and not even being on a five-year planning horizon to do so — has been there isn’t money to do so, she said.

After residents complained about the poor quality of Maui Meadows streets, a county crew came through and filled some cracks with tar, she said.

“They’ve done a little of that,” she said.

* Brian Perry can be reached at