Changes proposed for Winchester’s vacation, sick leave policies

Posted October 24th, 2019.

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By BRIAN BREHM The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — City Council is considering modifications to Winchester’s vacation, holiday and sick leave policies for municipal employees.

As proposed by Winchester Human Resources Director Paula Nofsinger:

  • Vacation and sick leave programs would be rebranded as paid time off. Employees would continue to earn the same number of days off per year.
  • The city’s sick leave bank, which gives employees the option of setting aside a certain number of vacation or sick days per year in case a serious medical condition, would be known as medical leave. Any paid time off that is earned but not used would automatically be added to a staff member’s medical leave.
  • Any employee not covered by the Virginia Retirement System’s short-term disability benefit would be enrolled in a similar program offered by the city.
  • The city would drop its three “floater days” — Presidents Day, Columbus Day and Apple Blossom Friday — and convert them to paid holidays. As a result, Winchester would offer employees 13 paid holidays per year instead of 10.

“We’ve been talking about these ideas and suggestions for a little over two years now,” Nofsinger told council during its work session on Tuesday night. “No one will be losing any current vacation balance.”

However, Allen Ballenger, of Winchester Professional Firefighters and Paramedics — IAFF Local 3401, said the proposed changes are unfair because career firefighters work more hours than other city employees, but they will be given the same amount of annual vacation and sick time as everyone else.

“Nothing is broke with the current system,” Ballenger told council.

Nofsinger stood by her proposal, which she said addresses inconsistencies in the current leave policies.

“I’m comfortable with what we’ve done,” she said, noting that no other city employees have voiced concerns with the proposed modifications.

Council Vice President Evan Clark objected to making Columbus Day an official city holiday, suggesting instead to give workers a day off on Election Day.

“Christopher Columbus was a terrible person,” Clark said of the 15th-century Italian explorer who brought disease, slavery and mistreatment to Native Americans.

Clark and Councilor John Willingham opposed the policy modifications, but Nofsinger’s proposal was still forwarded for further consideration on a vote of 4-2.

  • In other business at Tuesday’s meeting and work session, City Council:
  • Unanimously approved an amendment to Winchester’s 2016 land contribution and development rights agreement with Timothy Mellon, who is creating Patsy Cline Memorial Park in the 600 block of South Kent Street. The revisions include clarifications of Mellon’s commitment to perform work on the Green Circle Trail behind the park, the conveyance of property at 616 S. Kent St. to the nonprofit group Celebrating Patsy Cline Inc., and extending the park’s completion date to July 16, 2022.
  • Unanimously approved an ordinance to rezone 0.2 acre of land at the corner of East Fairfax Lane and National Avenue from Limited High-Density Residential (HR-1) to Central Business (B-1), providing additional green space to meet the density requirements for a proposed residential and commercial complex planned at the corner of North Kent and East Piccadilly streets.
  • Unanimously agreed to allow the New York-based law firm of Sanford Heisler Sharp to represent Winchester in a lawsuit against national pharmaceutical companies accused of fueling America’s opioid epidemic. The goal is to recover some or all of the money the city has spent on health care, social services, police enforcement, incarceration and other public services due to the abuse of narcotics.
  • Unanimously agreed to forward an ordinance authorizing the approval of the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board’s Chief Elected Officials Consortium Agreement.
  • Unanimously agreed to forward a request to appropriate $16.7 million for previously approved projects and grant and bond proceeds.
  • Unanimously agreed to forward council’s proposed meeting schedule for 2020.

Attending Tuesday night’s City Council meeting and work session in Rouss City Hall were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice President Evan Clark and councilors Kim Herbstritt, John Willingham, Bill Wiley and Judy McKiernan. Vice Mayor John Hill and councilors Corey Sullivan and Les Veach were absent.

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