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Freeport workshops: sick leave donations and sewer problems

Jun 13th, 2013 | 0

By BEN GRAFTON

The Freeport City Council Workshop of June 4, featuring good employee attendance and participation, opened with discussion of a policy that would allow employees to donate accumulated sick leave to another employee suffering from illness and in need of assistance. At the previous Council meeting Councilman Charlie Simmons and Councilwoman Elizabeth Brannon had expressed concerns about using a cap to limit the amount that could be donated.

With respect to the cap, Councilman Earl King said, “I was led to believe that with civil service, like at Eglin, you have a 40 hour cap. …basically, if you didn’t have the cap, every time someone stumped their toe they would be out. …As far as changing the policy, I just think we need to be very careful about the changes we make.”

Councilwoman Elizabeth Brannon brought in three separate policies: one from Walton County, one from the city of DeFuniak Springs and another from the state of Florida. She said, “They all have sick leave pools and a provision for an employee to transfer donations. I did notice that each one had a cap…and the maximum donation that one employee can give to another is 240 hours (six weeks) of accumulated sick leave.” She also said, “I don’t think we have enough employees to have a sick leave pool.”

Mayor Mickey Marse suggested that employees making donations should have to retain at least 80 hours of accumulated sick leave for their own use.

Councilman Harold Taunton proposed that the policy deny donations to a sick employee so long as the sick employee still has unused assets in his or her sick leave account.

King would like have all requests for benefit donations submitted through the employee’s supervisor. He also said he thought the Council has a general base on which to build a personnel sick leave donation policy.

City Clerk Robin Haynes will bring a draft sick leave donation policy to the next regular Council meeting.

Discussion then turned to the complex problem of the outstanding debt owed to Walton County on the domestic sewage collection system installed to serve developments along the U.S. 331 artery just north of the bay. The basic problem is that few residents in these areas have tied into the system. The result is a lack of sewer service revenue from the developments to pay off the outstanding loan balance. An equal problem is the negative impact on the efficiency of the sewage plant because it is forced to run so far below design capacity.

Marse has talked to some members of the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) trying to find a way to make the investment work. Two commissioners have indicated a willingness to participate in a joint city/BCC workshop to discuss the problem.

Cliff Knauer of Preble-Rish told the Council that the county, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Choctawhatchee Bay Alliance all recognize that a nitrogen buildup from failed septic tanks is a problem in the bay.  He said there should be a partnership to address sewage issues outside of the city.

Knauer also said that there are 300 septic tanks in the Black Creek area that are poisoning the bay. Water samples taken in that area show fecal coliform levels that are “…out of the roof.”

Haynes said, “…a way to manage the financial problem must be found now.”

King proposed that the city and the BCC meet together, throw out some ideas, and see what they say.

Haynes will ask the county for available dates to have a meeting.

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