WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Two months after Sedgwick County workers lost Presidents Day as a paid holiday, they are getting it back. But it may only be for this year.
The Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to add it back to the list of paid holidays for County employees in 2023.
In November, the County Commission voted to replace Presidents Day with Juneteenth.
An issue of worker morale
But at the Wednesday meeting, new Commissioner Ryan Baty, who was not on the Commission during the previous vote, said County employees deserve to have Presidents Day back.
“If staffing morale and staffing instability is an issue, and we all believe that it is, and staffing stability is a top priority, I think this is low-hanging fruit,” Baty said. “I think this is an easy win — that we can bring this back in and send a strong signal to our staff of Sedgwick County of nearly 3,000 employees that we see this as a priority.”
Baty said the County’s December financial report showed that the County could afford to bring it back this year.
“I also know … that we may not have a whole lot of easy wins in 2024, so what I’m contending for is looking at this as an opportunity to send a clear signal, and it makes sense to do so,” he said.
Without Presidents Day, County employees get 10 paid holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, the day after Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Baty pointed out that the City of Wichita gets those 10 plus two extra — Presidents Day and a personal day.
“Staffing stability is a top priority, and this is an easy win that I think, this will really resonate with the employees that serve our county,” he said.
Commissioner Sarah Lopez, who is in the hospital after delivering twins on Tuesday, joined the meeting via Zoom. She said it was important for her to be part of the conversation about paid holidays.
“I think if we look at what our priorities have been over the last couple of years and morale and really doing right by our staff is a top one of those,” she said. “So I completely agree with everything (Baty) just said.”
A floating holiday instead
Commissioner Jim Howell said he wanted to know where the County stands on adding a floating holiday instead of Presidents Day or Juneteenth. When he asked that same question in November, Sedgwick County Chief Human Resources Officer Sheena Schmutz said the County’s system was not set up to allow for it, and adjustments would need to be made.
“There’s a lot of companies in the private sector that do have floating holidays,” Howell said on Wednesday. “Are we making any progress moving toward a floating holiday option?”
County Manager Tom Stolz said they are still looking into it.
“When you talk about a floating holiday, if you’re talking about just adding another day, I think we can manage that,” Stolz said. “If you’re talking about not recognizing a holiday or two or three and then putting a floater in instead, that’s where the management challenge and the staffing challenge and the operation of the business becomes more challenging.”
He said staff could have more information on that when the 2024 budget process begins.
The cost for the County
Howell then asked how much it would cost the County to return Presidents Day as a paid holiday.
Schmutz said the total cost would be $828,539.
Baty asked Lindsay Rousseau, the County’s chief financial officer if she has any reservations about the County being able to afford that.
“Honestly, no, I don’t,” she said.
She referred to the December financial report and a surplus in the general fund of $6 million.
“When you are talking about a meaningful way to spend money and a way that doesn’t increase costs … I think this is something where we can get a good bang for the buck, and we are able to financially sustain this,” Rousseau said. “I know that there is more conversation to be had, but at least for 2024, we are well positioned to do this, this year.”
Commissioner David Dennis said he was disappointed the Commission was discussing the issue so soon after the November vote. And he said he is “very worried” about the County’s financial future.
“We are talking about a $9 million deficit in 2024 and $20-some million deficit in 2025, as I recall, and we are looking at a $800-some thousand expense for doing what is being proposed today,” Dennis said. “I just don’t think it is the right time. I think that what we need to do is take a look at this issue in a little bit more detail.”
In the end, the commissioners voted on a motion to add Presidents Day to the list of the County’s paid holidays this year. The motion included a requirement that County staff come up with a solution by November for a floating holiday in place of Presidents Day or Juneteenth for 2024 and beyond. November is when commissioners will discuss and vote on 2024’s paid holidays.
The commissioners unanimously approved the motion.