Use them or lose them. That should be the town of Dracut's new mandate regarding the use of vacation days and sick days for all municipal workers -- both union and nonunion.
It's a policy that all Massachusetts municipalities should adopt, although Dracut's tenuous financial position makes it immediately important for action.
The Sun reported on Sunday that five longtime employees -- mostly departments heads -- will receive retirement payouts totaling $552,000 for unused sick time and vacation time. The financial kick in the pants comes on the heels of the $300,000 benefits payout received by former Town Manager Dennis Piendak when he retired in 2013.
The cash payouts represent an unbudgeted liability, meaning Dracut will have to dig deep into its reserves or make "savings" to come up with the dough.
In fact, the cash-strapped town has worked out deals with the five recent retirees to spread out the payouts. While the arrangement lessens the financial impact, it doesn't stop the bleeding.
Dracut's unfunded liability for these perks keeps ticking ahead every day, just like the national debt.
In this day and age of tight budgets, no public worker should be allowed to accumulate unused sick days and vacation days to the detriment of a municipality's fiscal health.
Dracut voters have made it resoundingly clear that they won't support operational overrides and higher taxes.
In 2004, Town Meeting capped benefits unevenly, grandfathering in existing workers and restricting new employees who were hired after July 1, 2004. The 12-yer-old bylaw must be re-evaluated.
As it stands now, nonunion employees hired after July 1, 2004 are eligible to receive payouts for all their unused vacation days and up to 120 sick days.
First, every administrator must use his/her annual allotment of vacation days during the fiscal year -- or lose them. It's a private sector rule that works just fine. It also results in accountability, something the public sector is obviously lax on when it comes to monitoring administrators' leave.
Second, sick days should be treated the same as above. Give each employee up to 10 total days a year. And back it up with a worker's disability policy to cover hospitalizations Why? Today, health care is based on preventive initiatives, which produces healthier clients. There is no need for generous sick-day policies that once served as a hedge against long hospital stays.
Like we mentioned earlier, Dracut voters are reluctant to raise taxes and yet they permit these budget-crushing perks, which drain the treasury, to continue. Close the loopholes once and for all.