Target 12

Warwick investigating potentially costly mistake in unused sick time bonuses

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) -- An accounting firm that works for the Warwick City Council is examining a potentially costly overrun involving unused sick time bonuses in the city's fire department, and the union is planning to hire an auditor as well, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.

State law provides firefighters unlimited sick time if they are injured on duty, with their respective municipal contracts setting a number of days for off-duty illnesses and injuries. 

The Warwick contract grants 20 sick days, and firefighters can bank up to 140 unused days.

At the end of firefighters' careers, or if they die, 75 percent of their unused days is paid out by the city.

During their careers, firefighters are also paid 75 percent of their unused sick time in monthly payouts once they reach that 140-day limit. 

Now, city administrators confirm fire department records indicate about 100 firefighters - nearly half the department - have apparently accumulated more than 140 days of unused sick time.

There is also concern that firefighters tabulate their unused time with pencil and paper on sick time sheets, as opposed to using modern accounting measures.

"The city is actively investigating the application of the contractual language to address concerns raised relative to the banking of residual monetized sick time," Mayor Joseph Solomon's Chief of Staff William DePasquale said.

Yarlas, Kaplan, Santilli, Moran (YKSM), an accounting firm that already does consulting work for the city council, is auditing the way the banked, unused sick time has been calculated.

Warwick Firefighters' Union President Mike Carreiro said "if anything, it's a clerical error" that was not intentional.

"No one is getting more time than they deserve," Carreiro added. "But we want to make sure we're doing this right. The fire department [union] is going to hire its own private auditor, just to make sure."

The issues were first raised by resident and frequent fire department budget critic Rob Cote and Warwick business owner Ken Block, who have called this and other potential issues within the fire department "systematic" and "abusive."

In a presentation to the city council last month, Block said the fire department's own documents indicate firefighters are monetizing 100 percent of their unused sick time, even after they reach the contractual limit of 140 days that they can cash out at the end of their careers.

Block said after they reach the 140-day limit, documents indicate firefighters receive 75 percent of their unused sick time in monthly payouts, as called for in the contract.

But according to Block, the additional 25 percent of that unused time is then added to their respective banks, pushing them over the 140-day limit.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau


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