Tuesday, June 19, 2018
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Commissioners adopt stricter tobacco-free policy

Board also considers change to paid time off

LEXINGTON—If you are a smoker who is paying your taxes, keeping an appointment with your probation officer or getting your driver’s license renewed in Dawson County, be sure you put out your cigarette before you get on courthouse grounds.

County commissioners have adopted a stricter tobacco-free policy which prohibits smoking or smokeless tobacco use on all county property.

During their regular bimonthly meeting on March 1, county board members unanimously passed a new tobacco-free policy which will take effect on July 1.

The courthouse and law enforcement center have been smoke-free buildings for some time but the new policy goes beyond that.

The latest tobacco-free work-place policy applies to all county employees and all visitors, contractors or customers.

Beginning July 1, smoking and use of smokeless tobacco will be prohibited at all times on county property, in vehicles and buildings on county property and at all times in county-supplied vehicles.

That includes the sidewalks and parking lot at the courthouse or any other county-owned building.

“One thing that is driving this is the cost of our health insurance,” said board chairman Dean Kugler of Gothenburg. “We still have a number of employees using tobacco and we’re seeing our health insurance costs continuing to rise. I know I’m tired of paying such high premiums and I don’t see people choosing to change on their own.”

When asked how the new policy will be enforced, commissioners said consequences will be built into the new employee handbook, which they hope to have updated before July 1.

In other policy discussion, commissioners considered a proposal to switch the vacation and sick leave hours earned by county employees to combined paid time off (PTO) that can be used for any purpose.

During a conference call with Pam Bourne, an attorney from Lincoln who specializes in work-place legal issues, commissioners discussed options for transitioning the current vacation and sick leave already accrued by employees into a lump sum of paid time off.

In her analysis, Bourne said Dawson County employees are good about taking their accumulated vacation time but don’t seem to be using a stockpile of sick leave.

Employees have accumulated roughly 49,000 hours of sick leave and about 5,000 hours of vacation time.

That equates to just over $500,000 in potential liability should all those employees choose to leave, Kugler explained.

The paid time off proposal actually rewards healthy employees who don’t regularly use their accrued sick leave because PTO hours earned are available for use at the employee’s discretion.

Bourne said under the PTO proposal, employees would carry over all vacation time without forfeiting anything.

Accrued sick leave, on the other hand, would be transferred into a catastrophic bank to be used only for lengthy categorized illnesses.

What commissioners have yet to decide is what employees will be paid for the hours in that catastrophic bank should they leave the county.

“This PTO policy would allow employees more discretionary time off while at the same time helping the county to manage the financial implications of accrued hours,” Bourne said.

Elected officials plan to discuss the PTO proposals and give their final recommendation to commissioners at their March 14 meeting.

Commissioners adopted, as well, adjustments to the employee expense form that increase the reimbursable cost allowed per meal from $8 to $10 for breakfast, $9 to $12 for lunch and $14 to $20 for supper, all at the discretion of the department official.

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