A request from the Lake County prosecutor’s office to pay deputy prosecutors approximately $136,000 for banked vacation time was met with opposition from much of the Lake County Council.
Bob Neumair, administrative supervisor for the Lake County prosecutor’s office, appeared during the Thursday council workshop to request funds be transferred to make the payment on the employee’s last paycheck of the year.
The department has the money to pay the employees.
“There is a surplus of funds We are not asking for any new money,” he said.
Neumair said the amount is so high because a number of employees have built up unused vacation time over a long period of years. Many deputy prosecutors are not able to take vacation time because of their court schedules. It is difficult for an attorney to leave in the middle of a case.
One employee alone had more than 1,600 hours of vacation time accrued, Neumair said. That employee agreed to receive payment for half the amount, 860 hours.
Councilwoman Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, said paying those employees for years of accrued vacation time would violate county ordinance which says if vacation time is not used by a certain time it is forfeited.
Council Attorney Thomas O’Donnell confirmed there is a county ordinance that prohibits banking vacation time. According to the ordinance the vacation time must be used by the end of the year. Only one week of unused vacation time may be rolled into the next year. That week then must be used by April 1 or it will be lost. The ordinance has been on the books for at least a decade.
“You have to use it or lose it,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said the total amount of vacation time the prosecutors are seeking to pay totals $136,000. The employee with the highest numbers of vacation time pay is expected to receive $44,000.
Councilman Charlie Brown, D-Gary, decried being put in the position on whether or not to approve the transfer to pay for accrued vacation time.
“You have brought us into the middle of this issue,” Brown said.
Neumair said going forward they understand how bad the policy is and will end it. Councilmembers said there may be no going forward since statute prohibits the payments.
“What happened in this instance is year after year it kept building up,” he said. This is the way the department handled vacation days.
“I know what the ordinance says. That has not been the policy of Mr. (Bernard A.) Carter,” he said.
Carter did not respond to request for comment Thursday or Friday.
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