Vacation, sick time payouts pad pocketbooks of some county officials

The holiday season is always a little more joyous for some Merced County elected officials, thanks to payouts of thousands of dollars for unused vacation and sick time.

However, since elected officials don't accrue vacation or sick time, the practice has raised some eyebrows, especially considering that when the officials in question need a break the time off doesn't reduce their end-of-the-year payouts.

At the end of 2011, the county paid $51,246 to the five elected A-level managers -- the sheriff, district attorney, tax collector, auditor and assessor.

The amounts are regularly paid at the end of the year, said Robert Morris, director of human resources for Merced County.

The 80 hours of vacation and 50 hours of sick time sellbacks are automatic for the county leaders.

Supervisor Deidre Kelsey is familiar with the sellbacks, but wasn't aware that the A-level elected managers don't accrue any vacation or sick time.

She described the setup as "disturbing."

"I'm kind of confounded that this is the case," Kelsey said. "I thought that they were being treated the same as all other A-level managers when it came to vacation sellback and sick leave."

Other nonelected managers have the option of selling back unused sick and vacation time, but they have to accrue the hours. When elected officials take time off, it doesn't reduce their sellback, unlike their non-elected counterparts.

Lisa Cardella-Presto, Merced County's auditor-controller, said the annual sellback option is part of the county's unrepresented management employee resolution.

Various employee groups have certain sellbacks for vacation and sick time, said Jim Brown, county executive officer. Elected managers are entitled to the same benefits as nonelected administrators, he said.

Both Brown and Cardella-Presto confirmed that the end-of-the-year sellbacks for A-level elected managers are flat amounts, regardless of how much time the recipients spend away from work.

Nevertheless, Cardella-Presto, who's taken a voluntary 5 percent pay cut, described her job as "24-7," adding that the compensation package was established before she became auditor-controller.

While many employees have taken cuts to help keep the county afloat during the turbulent economic climate, elected officials can't have their pay reduced unless they voluntarily make the change.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.