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By December 8, 2015 Read More →

Cash-strapped Cities Disband Agencies


Ed. note: This editorial appeared on the Asbury Park Press website. It’s a real attack job on law enforcement, making the familiar claims that it’s greedy police with inflated salaries and benefits that are the cause of lack of revenue and budget shortfalls. Who knows how true any of these claims are, but it’s important to know what people are saying and fight back with our own op-ed pieces.

EDITORIAL: Cops Shooting Selves in Foot

Thanks to the concept of home rule and the power of police unions in New Jersey, trying to consolidate or disband police departments in New Jersey has been largely futile. But in one town at least, Lake Como, the mayor and council had no choice.

In what could be a harbinger of things to come, unaffordable police contracts may force other towns to do what the quarter-square-mile borough in Monmouth County is in the process of doing: eliminating its police department and farming out police services to a neighboring community.

Lake Como officials looked at the budget math for next year — and the police contract —and quickly realized the borough could no longer support its own police department. It asked neighboring towns to submit proposals for providing police service, and one, Belmar, responded. It is currently analyzing its potential impact, financial and otherwise.

For Lake Como, the numbers tell the story, a story in which police contract excesses — excesses, it should be emphasized, that are the same or worse in municipalities throughout the state — made it impossible for the tiny borough’s taxpayers to absorb the costs.

To fund the 10-member police force in 2016, the borough would have to exceed the 2 percent tax levy cap by about $650,000, roughly 16 percent of the total budget. Assuming voters approved a cap override, it would cost households assessed at the borough average an additional $651 a year in property taxes. The police department’s $1.9 million share of the borough’s roughly $4 million budget amounts to nearly $2,000 for each of the borough’s 900 households.

Only two of the police employees in the low-crime borough make less than $106,000 in base pay. In New Jersey, which has the highest average police salaries in the nation, more than 11,000 police officers in the state earned more than six figures in base pay in 2014.

Many of the budget stresses can be found in the current police contract, which expires at the end of this year. To wit:

• Longevity pay: Officers receive 2 percent of base pay after 5 years and 10 percent of base pay after 22 years of service.

• College credit: Receive $1,000 for an A.A. degree, $1,500 for a B.A., $2,000 for a master’s degree, tacked on to base pay each year.

• Vacation days: 25 days after 15 years of service, 30 days after 20 years of service.

• Sick leave: 15 days a year, beginning after 1 year of service. Days can be carried over. After 10 years of service, they receive 50 percent of accumulated sick days, up to $15,000.

• Personal days: three, and two additional if no sick days are used during course of a year.

• Bereavement leave: An unspecificied number of days from date of death to funeral, and up to three days more after the funeral for immediate family members, which includes spouse, children, parent, stepchild, sibling, grandparents, stepmother, stepfather, guardian, mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, grandchildren, niece, nephew, uncle, aunt or any person related by blood or marriage residing in an employee’s household.

• Overtime: Entitled to OT for any time worked 15 minutes beyond the scheduled end of their shift. Paid at time and a half.

• Off-duty details, such as “road jobs, basketball games,” compensated at time and half the hourly rate based on the top step of the salary guide.

• Outside employment: “Officers shall have the rights to engage in any activity or obtain any employment without being unduly restricted in any way the Borough of Lake Como.”

• Health insurance: The same platinum (high-end) level of coverage offered to other police, teachers and public employees in the state. Despite the 2011 reforms that required public employees to contribute more, in 2013, the latest year for which complete information is available, public employes on average were still contributing only 9 percent toward the total cost of their premiums.

• Pension: As with other police officers enrolled in Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, after 25 years of service, 65 percent of base pay for final year’s salary. After 30 years of service, 70 percent of final year’s base pay. Pensions also are available at age 55 with no minimum amount of service required, and to those who have at least 20 years of service, regardless of age.

We aren’t picking on Lake Como here. Many departments pay better, with equal or somewhat superior benefits.

Successful attempts to consolidate police departments in New Jersey have been few and far between. Resistance from police unions and, in some instances, from residents themselves, has been fierce. Consolidating or regionalizing departments doesn’t always make sense. But depending on the size of the departments, the geography of the towns and other factors, it does, not only financially but in terms of efficiency, improved coverage and range and quality of services. Historically, that hasn’t mattered.

If Lake Como’s experience is any indication, it soon might to many other towns.

Posted in: Intel Report

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