HUTCHINSON, Kan. -

The city of Hutchinson has passed a proposal to change sick leave payouts for Firefighters.

Under the new provisions those employed at the station before July 1, 1993 will be grandfathered into the prior payout where when they retire or pass away they can sell back unused sick leave.

Those hired on or after that date will be subject to a new payout policy that ties unused sick leave to how often a firefighter calls in sick.

Under the proposal, a firefighter who uses more than 30% of sick leave wouldn't be eligible for the full buyout. The amount he or she is eligible for would go down the more sick days that firefighter uses. It's part of an effort to lower absenteeism that city leaders say has gotten too high.

The city council voted in a public hearing on the proposed changes, Tuesday morning at 9. The council has already voted to make the changes in sick leave payout to other city employee contracts.

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Hutchinson firefighters are taking their case against a change in sick leave benefits to the public as they prepare for a public hearing on the issue Tuesday morning.

"Now, all of a sudden, 'Oh, by the way if you've used too much you get nothing,'" said Capt. Wesley Stewart, president of the firefighters' union.

Firefighters say the city is trying to take away benefits they've already earned and has already forced the early retirement of some of those with the most experience.

The City of Hutchinson says it's just trying to battle high absentee rates and save you money.

Firefighters say it's another step in a series of financial losses over the last few years.

"This isn't a case of public employees asking for huge benefit raises or huge amounts of money," said Stewart. "This is just us employees asking for a benefit that has always been ours."

Stewart said in recent years firefighters have gone without raises and taken cuts in vacation benefits. He says this plan will hurt those who've been with the department the longest the most.

"This benefit's been on the table since at least 1974. It's something we've grown accustomed to and rely on," he said. He says two firefighters with more than 70 years of experience between them have already retired, rather than lose the unused sick leave payout.

Monday evening, firefighters took their case to the public. But instead of protest signs and chants, they did it with a community party, complete with firetruck rides and treats.

"We wanted to put something positive out there for the public to have some fun and just hang out with their firefighters, get to know us better," said Stewart.

And, in the process, firefighters were able to share their concerns with the public, discussing the proposed changes and handing out informational postcards.

"We feel like the city ought to honor that promise that they've made to us for years and years," said Stewart.

"It's business," said Deardoff. "We've got to look at these kinds of things as an organization. And I think the public expects us to be looking at these things and to lower our cost."