Wednesday, May 09, 2012

TOP STORY >> Cabot employees could go to college free

Leader staff writer

A change could be coming in the personnel handbook for Cabot employees which will make it easier for them to go to college by paying full tuition for good grades.

Currently, the city reimburses the employees for tuition for one course a semester at the rate of 100 percent for A’s, 75 percent for B’s and 50 percent for C’s, but nothing for other fees or books.

Brian Higgins, the city’s human resource director, told the city council’s personnel and finance committee Monday night that few employees take advantage of the city’s offer to pay tuition so they can advance in their respective fields with the city.

And when they find out that if they make less than an A, the city doesn’t pay the full tuition, the cost is more than they are willing to pay.

Since C’s count toward degrees just like A’s, Higgins proposed reimbursement for full tuition for C’s and higher. He also proposed full reimbursement for fees and $80 for books.

Alderman Patrick Hutton said he thought if the city was going to put out the money, then the employee should earn it. He dismissed Higgins’ argument that sometimes things happen that are beyond students’ control, such as bad instructors.

“If they want the full reimbursement, I want the A,” Hutton insisted.

Alderman Rick Prentice disagreed with Hutton. City employees are non-traditional students with jobs and families. Some have been out of high school for many years and have forgotten how to study.

Prentice said they should be allowed to work to their ability and the city should reimburse the full tuition if they pass.

Higgins also proposed a change in how the city pays employees who are off work because of injuries that could possibly get them back to work sooner.

Currently, workman’s compensation pays 66 percent of the wages for the first 90 days a worker is off with injuries and the city pays the difference for a full 100 percent of wages. After 90 days, workman’s comp continues and employees may use their vacation and sick days to make up the difference.

Higgins said he realized one day that since the 66 percent is tax free, employees who are paid directly by the city or using their sick and vacation days actually make more than when they are working.

Under those conditions, some employees would make an additional $5,000 a year, he said, and have little incentive to keep appointments with doctors so they could go back to work.

He proposes no changes for the first 90 days, but after that time employees would no longer draw pay for sick and vacation days. They would only draw workman’s comp which would mean a pay cut of about 10 percent because the workman’s comp is tax free.

A change is likely also coming for some employees in the street department who have commercial driver’s licenses that allow them to operate large trucks such as dump trucks.

Those CDL holders have said they are exempt from the requirement for periodic physical.

But Brian Boroughs, the new head of public works, disagrees.

“There’s a stated exemption out there but it doesn’t seem, to be the law,” Boroughs said.

Higgins talked to experts with the Municipal League in North Little Rock and included what he learned in proposed changes to the employee handbook. But Prentice, who works in transportation, said he believed some of Higgins’ information was wrong.

Specifically, Higgins proposed giving employees a five-day grace period to produce the health cards that show they are physically fit to drive or explain why they didn’t get one.

Prentice said the grace period wasn’t needed. Either they were fit to drive or not.

After much discussion, the committee agreed to pass all the proposed handbook changes to the full council except the CDL change.

Alderman Ed Long said he wanted a lawyer from the Municipal League to come explain it to the committee.

“For the amount of money we pay those people in North Little Rock, they can have someone come up here,” Long said.