Tallahassee City Commission narrowly OKs employee leave buyback for next year

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Tallahassee city commissioners decided on Wednesday to renew their leave buyback program for next year, following a 3-2 vote, though many raised concerns about the program.

The buyback program, which allows city employees to sell their unused leave for cash, has an estimated dollar amount of around $1.8 million and is expected to apply to 800 of the nearly 4,000 city employees.

City Manager Reese Goad spoke about how "it was not our intention" to renew the program, but following positive feedback from city employees they decided to again put it before the commission.

Commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Jack Porter, however, voted against it, doubting whether the buyback would benefit the right people. Matlow, for instance, asked who the top recipients of the program would be.

Goad answered the "leave is paid out at the wage of the employee, so the higher wage employees would, in theory, receive a higher benefit. Now, they may not choose to sell the leave."

Goad also explained there are provisions in place so employees can't exhaust their leave.

"In prior years, the personal buy-back was approved on an annual basis and allowed employees to buy back up to 80 hours of personal leave in 10-hour increments," an agenda item explained. "Employees had to maintain a personal leave balance of at least 80 hours following the buy-back."

Matlow said the money being put into the buyback program could have easily been saved or be better used, like raising wages for part-time city workers or even firefighters.

"Are we going to put an $8,000, $9,000 dollar Christmas present under the tree of the people at the very top ... ? This is the same commission that has repeatedly said we can't afford to give part-time workers $15 an hour because maybe they're just high school students," Matlow said. "But we're going to look for $2 million to do leave buyback that disproportionately goes to the people at the top?"

Members of the Tallahassee firefighters union were in the crowd, looking to talk with the commission in the unagendaed speakers portion to bring to their attention how, after 10 months, they are no closer to a new contract.

Tallahassee Firefighters Union President Joey Davis speaks to reporters outside of a Florida Commission on Ethics hearing on June 3, 2022
Tallahassee Firefighters Union President Joey Davis speaks to reporters outside of a Florida Commission on Ethics hearing on June 3, 2022

Matlow said he believed the buyback program could work if there was a limit that only employees who make less than a certain amount could use it. Some in the audience cheered and applauded that suggestion.

Commissioners Dianne Williams-Cox and Curtis Richardson favored approving the buyback, both sharing but Richardson made a point that didn't sit well with some in the audience.

"Our firefighters, we want them to have equitable salaries and pay," Richardson said. "It's not that we don't want it." He was meet with boos from members of the firefighters union.

Matlow later made another motion to vote for leave buyback but only for employees who make less than $100,000. It failed 3-2.

Arianna Otero is the City Solutions Reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat. Contact her via email at AOtero@tallahassee.com or on Twitter/X: @ari_v_otero.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Commissioners renew leave buyback for Tallahassee city workers