San Juan County commissioners will vote on an ordinance next month that will cap the amount of vacation time a person can accumulate at 320 hours.
County employees now can save unused vacation time for their entire career. There are 35 employees with a cache of more than 500 vacation hours. Five of those employees have paid time off each with a total value of between $38,000 and $55,000, according to county documents.
When employees retire they are paid for the vacation time they never use, said County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter.
The vacation-hour policy is threatening to unbalance the county's operating budget, he said. The 86 employees with more than 320 hours of saved vacation time will receive a combined $1.3 million when they retire.
The remaining 615 county employees have saved $1.2 million worth of vacation time.
"The more (vacation) time that gets tucked away, the more liability the county has," Carpenter said. "This is one of the only places that doesn't have a cap."
The change in vacation-hour policy is part of an ordinance that makes several changes the county's employee handbook.
"We have to do everything that's in the best interest of our citizens," Carpenter said. "And more importantly, it's good business to look at it."
The ordinance would not affect the existing vacation time
"Leave time is there for a reason. It's not there to be a savings account," Carpenter said. "You've got to be able to reset and unwind away from work for a little bit."
The county will be taking feedback on the ordinance for the next month and commissioners will vote on the policy changes in October, he said.
San Juan County is the only local government that doesn't cap vacation time.
City of Farmington employees can save between 256 and 416 hours of vacation, depending on how long they have been employed with the city, said Dianne Fuhrman, the city clerk.
City of Bloomfield employees can save between 240 and 360 hours, Brad Ellsworth, Bloomfield's finance director, said.
Don Cooper, the county emergency manager, has saved 945 hours of vacation time, which is worth $43,000. Cooper said he and many other county employees who are in line for big vacation-time payouts have been county employees for more than 20 years.
"I love my job," he said. "I take a couple weeks of vacation each year and save the rest."
Cooper described the ordinance as fair and inevitable.
"I think it's very, very fair and it's in line with what the rest world is doing," Cooper said. "I think where (the county is) headed is a prude, common sense and fair. ... Fair to taxpayers and fair to employees."